By YOURI KEMP
and NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Reporters
The Grand Bahama Utility Company yesterday defended its 25 percent water bill discount against calls from the deputy prime minister for the reduction to be greater.
The water supplier, in a statement issued to Tribune Business, said Freeport businesses and residents were currently paying just one-quarter of what their New Providence counterparts typically pay Water & Sewerage as it works to restore full services post-Hurricane Dorian.
GB Utility Company responded after K Peter Turnquest argued its tariffs should be reduced by more than 25 percent due to the fact consumers are unable to use its water for drinking and cooking because of salt water intrusion from Dorian's storm surge.
"We are sensitive, and certainly presenting the case of the residents of Grand Bahama to the Utility Company, who feel that the charge, or the utility company charging for this water that is not potable water, may be unfair," Mr Turnquest said.
"We are certainly having that discussion, and the utility company is now giving a discount on the water, but nonetheless the residents do have a position, and rightfully so, that if they are not able to cook and drink with the water that there really ought to be a deeper discount than 25 percent.
"So we continue to have those conversations to see if we can come to a more amicable solution to that. Nonetheless, at least we can see some positive movements in terms of trying to address the situation in a sustained way," he continued.
"The water utility company has also indicated that they are working on dropping a few more wells in some fresh water reservoirs they have found on the island. Hopefully that will help to reduce the salinity in the water, and I think the hydrologist has indicated by May/June we should to see a significant increase in the quality of the potable water."
GB Utility Company, in response, said: "We have previously engaged the government regarding water utility billings and invited them to meet with us to discuss any concerns. We certainly understand the frustration of our customers. We are working diligently to execute our strategic plan to return the water quality to pre-hurricane low salinity levels.
"For two-and-a-half months after Hurricane Dorian, water was provided free of charge to customers. The water pressure is good and has fully returned to pre-Dorian levels, and is being pumped at 6.5m gallons per day. We understand the main impact of higher than usual salinity levels on potable (drinkable) water, but the water is being fully treated and is safe for all uses except for consumption, as we have emphasized throughout."
The water supplier continued: "Appreciating that there are fixed costs associated with the service used by our customers, such as inherent electricity costs of pumping and distribution, we have provided a 25 percent discount on the water until potable drinking water is provided. To that aim, potable water is being provided, free of charge, at 44 sites island-wide, with additional sites coming on stream next week.
"We are absorbing the cost of free potable water being supplied to the island inclusive of schools, churches, hotels and outlying settlements that fall outside of the Freeport jurisdiction. This is at a trucking cost of $10,000 per week not inclusive of reverse osmosis costs by NGOs (non-governmental organisations).
"This cost has not, and will not, be passed on to our customers. Including the discount, the current cost of water services is one-quarter of the cost per month which customers pay in New Providence. We remain open to having additional dialogue with government as we work in the best interests of our customers."
Mr Turnquest yesterday also spoke about Grand Bahama Power Company's progress in re-electrifying his east Grand Bahama constituency after Dorian, saying: "The electrical company has indicated that they are now going to extend the transmission lines out as far as Equinor in the first stage and work the service back from there towards the Freeport area.
"That will give electricity to the major settlements in the East End, and then we will look at how we extend the transmission lines out to Mclean's Town and Sweetings Cay - whether we run the lines in the interim, or whether we drop a generator in the community itself to be able to provide some temporary supply to those areas. So that is very positive news and certainly an improvement in the picture that we were faced with before the end of the year.
"That will facilitate the redevelopment and the relocation of people back to those communities, which is critically important."