Govt explores ‘no build’ zones


Tribune Business Reporter

The government is exploring the creation of “no-build zones” in The Bahamas, a senior Ministry of Works official said yesterday, with Hurricane Dorian’s devastation amplified by construction “shortcuts”.

Melanie Roach, director of public of public works, told the Dorian pledging conference: “What we are finding is that in a majority of cases where buildings did not stand up to the hurricane, unfortunately persons took shortcuts and did not build in accordance with the current Bahamas building codes.

“We have found that a lot of structures that withstood even the 185 mile per hour winds, once they were constructed in accordance with each and every aspect of the code, they actually faired very well.”

Noting the reforms that Dorian will likely prompt, Ms Roach added: “The building code already states that the ground floor level must be 12 or 18 inches above the known flood level. Now, Dorian has changed what is the known flood level in many areas.

“Whereas the code may have been to build just 18 inches above the existing ground, in places where you have eight foot to ten foot storm surges you can’t build according to code unless you go up another 12 feet. Now, with 23 foot surges, no one is going to be able to build so there are limitations based on what we are allowed to do.

“So serious considerations are going to have to be given out on no build zones, and classifications for persons who are purchasing those properties or inherited those properties on where they can build and how they can build.”

Ms Roach added: “We are working with several agencies, as well as local engineers and architectural partnerships, and we will be conducting a review of The Bahamas building code to go into the fourth edition, because our code is 15 or 16 years-old.

“So it is time for an update, and so that is what we are doing. But the code is only as good as its enforcement, and that is where we have fallen the hardest. Over the last 12 months the building controls division has been in discussions with local technical persons, including the different learned societies of engineers, architects and contractors, and we are on the cusp of putting together a programme of independent inspectors rather than just relying on persons that are employed by the Government of the Bahamas.”

The Institute of Bahamian Architects (IBA), Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) and Bahamas Society of Engineers (BSE) last year joined forces to form the Alliance of Architects, Contractors and Engineers (ACE). They have already submitted a report to the Ministry of Works and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) that recommends drafting in industry experts to help with the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricane Dorian.

The ACE report asks the Government to consider implementing a Professional Certification Programme (PCP) similar to those found in most major cities in North America to perform these functions. It argues that its three member organisations can provide the training for this certification programme in association with the Building Control Department and the Ministry of Works.

Suggesting that hiring independent inspectors would be a very “delicate and tricky” situation, Ms Roach added, “You would have persons that are in the industry, so we have to make sure there is no cross-contamination where you are not inspecting your own building.

“But we are going to put a focus on rolling the programme out as quickly as possible so that we can get the assistance that is greatly needed to ensure that anything that is built is built in accordance with the Bahamas building code.”

Ms Roach added that the Government has to look at low-lying areas where persons are building, and determine what will be permitted there. “We do have some information on the coastal zone flooding, and so that is going to impact how persons are going to be allowed to build,” she said.