Builders’ stormprep criticised

Legislation to ensure contractors secure their materials on jobsites before storms is possible after several did not do so before Hurricane Dean passed last week.

A van weaves its way through construction debris

A van weaves its way through construction debris that wave surge from Hurricane Dean scattered on the road in front of the South Shore development in Spotts.
Photo: Justin Uzzell

While assessing Dean’s damage after the storm, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts found construction debris littering the road in certain places.

‘I was very disappointed to see that,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘With all of the hard preparations everyone made, to leave that as a danger to public safety and private property was very disappointing.’

In addition to creating post-storm debris, Mr. Tibbetts noted that some of the materials could have become ‘missiles’ during Dean, something he said was the most dangerous part of any storm.

Because of the inactions of some contractors prior to Dean, the government might take actions to force builders to prepare their jobsites properly for storms.

‘We are looking very seriously at dealing with that through legislation or regulations, whichever is more appropriate,’ Mr. Tibbetts said, adding that there would be penalties attached for failing to comply.

Several building sites on Grand Cayman were questionably prepared prior to Dean. Some contractors left piles of wood and other building materials unsecured, and others left scaffolding up.

On the Friday prior to Hurricane Dean’s passing, the Joint Communication Services of the National Hurricane Committee sent out a notice urging all construction company owners and managers to clear any debris on their jobsites ‘in order to minimise damage to both the site and surrounding buildings during the hurricane’.

Director of Planning Kenneth Ebanks was one of the people who had expressed concern about the conditions of building sites prior to the passing of Hurricane Dean.

This week, Mr. Ebanks said that in the absence of legislation, all contractors and builders should secure their jobsites as best as possible, including securing scaffolding and all wooden parts.

Even without legislation, it is possible contractors could be held responsible for damage caused to other properties by materials on their jobsites.

‘I am not sure what liabilities builders or their clients are subject to if someone or something is injured as a result of an insecure site and it is proven that they were negligent,’ he said.

Mr. Ebanks said he personally does not subscribe to more legislation.

‘But if companies cannot or are not prepared to act responsibly, then it will become necessary to recommend that there be some form of minimum standards that construction sites should adhere to,’ he said. ‘It is too easy for material stored loosely around the sites to become dangerous objects during times of inclement weather.’

One development that had problems with materials scattered by Hurricane Dean was South Shore next to Ocean Club. The main road was littered with debris in front of the development Monday morning, some of which came from South Shore.

Project manager Peter Plunkett of Fine Homes, the contractor for South Shore, said he came back from vacation in order to prepare the jobsite for the storm.

Mr. Plunkett explained that the amount of materials on a jobsite depends on what stage a project is in. If it’s dried in already, then there would not be many materials on site.

However, if the builder is still doing concrete work, there would be a lot of wood and wood forms on the property. In that case, the construction company can only band the wood together the best it can and try to put some weight on it.

At South Shore, the materials were dispersed by wave surge, not by wind. A storage shed holding other materials was destroyed by the waves. Knowing that storm surge was a possibility, a crew was standing by to clean up the jobsite immediately after it was safe to go out.

The crew had the road in front of South Shore cleared for traffic by mid-morning Monday, and completely cleared by noon.

Mr. Plunkett said he thought the company did everything it could be expected to do in the circumstances, but added one thing it would do differently in the future was to store some items higher.

The scaffolding was left up at South Shore intentionally. It was fastened to the building and the contractor thought it would present very little wind resistance and therefore would not be a risk during the storm.

The developer of The Plantation in South Sound, Don Ebanks, also thought he had secured his property well enough in face of Dean’s risk.

‘Everything was done on a risk-adjusted basis,’ he said, adding that Dean had been trending south of Grand Cayman.

‘If you’re talking about something headed right toward you at a Category 4 or 5, then people will do more checks and more tying down of loose materials,’ he said.

Heavier wood was left in piles at The Plantation, while lighter wood was covered with blocks or pieces of scaffolding or fencing.

Mr. Ebanks said he thought the jobsite was secure in face of the risk posed by Dean.

‘I recognise this is a serious issue,’ he said. ‘I took the steps I thought were necessary in instructing certain things be done.

‘I was not aware of anything being out of whack with the way things were prepared,’ he said.

Mr. Ebanks thought it was unwise to single out contractors in any legislation mandating hurricane preparation.

‘I guess you have to decide if this is an issue about construction sites or if this is an issue about public health and safety,’ he said. ‘I would contend it is the latter.’

In that case, Mr. Ebanks said what people do at their homes in preparation for storms should also be considered. Potted plants and patio furniture could be equally dangerous to the public, he pointed out.

‘If you’re having a standard, it can’t be just for builders. It should be for everyone.’

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