(CNS): Government is currently in talks to adapt the new Bodden Town Church of God building, which is under development, into a public hurricane shelter. Answering a parliamentary question by Newlands MLA Alva Suckoo last week during the Legislative Assembly meeting on Cayman Brac, Minister Joseph Hew, who has oversight of public works, said the government was collaborating on a draft agreement between Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) and the church about the use of the facility. The Public Works Department is also preparing the drawing package to be used in the tendering process for selection of a suitable contractor, Hew said.
Bodden Town is the fastest growing district in the Cayman Islands but has just two hurricane shelters, one at the civic centre and the other at the school, neither of which is currently rated to withstand a hurricane above category 3.
While the church was always meant to be adapted for those purposes, the project was stalled in 2011 when funding was cut. The local MLAs for the district, Anthony Eden in Savannah, Chris Saunders in Bodden Town West and Suckoo, said they had been advocating for the project for six years.
“It is hoped that this project will be completed in time for the 2019 hurricane season,” Suckoo said after the minister’s confirmation that the project was now back on track. He thanked the minister for pushing the project forward, saying this was in “contrast to the previous administration’s negligible effort in four years to advance the project”, despite having served in that government for the first 18 months before jumping from the PPM ship.
Suckoo said that in 2016, when the legislature approved $2 million for an additional hurricane shelter for Cayman Brac, the opposition pressed the issue of the shortage of shelters in Bodden Town. At that time Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell said government would try to find the around CI$125,000 needed for the BT church to move forward.
Given that nothing happened, the Suckoo raised the issue again in the 2017 budget proceedings, when he said that the building could be completed for less than $2 million, but no funding were found to get things moving. Suckoo had argued that the church hall could also serve as a community centre, hosting district events such as school concerts, graduations and other gatherings too large for current district venues.
With Tropical Storm Isaac on the horizon, Suckoo said this week that the shortage of shelters in Bodden Town was at the forefront of concerns. Frustrated at the pace of response, Suckoo said that while he supported government efforts in offering help to other Caribbean countries in their times of crisis, the people here were also at risk.
“It was frustrating to think that at the same time the safety of our own people was being given such a low priority,” he said. “With the inadequacy of shelter facilities for Bodden Town, especially for residents of low-lying areas, God forbid that we should have another Ivan this year.”
He said he was grateful the project is at long last moving forward, but the delay in the resumption of work on the church has not been without its serious associated risks, and he appealed to government to consider the consequences of inaction and delay in areas of public safety.
“We have to do better. This cavalier attitude on the part of those charged with the responsibility for the safety of its own people is not only disturbing, it also borders on dereliction of duty,” he added.
Category: Local News