A week or so ago this newspaper announced the awarding of a building permit for some towers to be built in Cupecoy or thereabouts. The lead editorial made observations about the project and its survivability and the final tag line made by the Editor, when talking about that survivability, was “they get the benefit of the doubt.”
It made me cringe when I read it because in any sort of modern society and certainly in this day and age, Engineering is no longer a matter of guesswork and luck. It is a function of the pure mechanical sciences that define loads and tolerances.
Luck has nothing to do with it and so, with all due respect, Mr. Editor, you are dead wrong. They are not owed the benefit of the doubt. The designers and Engineers should be held to the highest standards and their credentials, work and calculations vetted by individuals at VROMI [Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure – Ed.] or elsewhere if necessary by individuals with real degrees in Engineering and vast experience in these types of structures. Any doubts should be erased before the first shovel of dirt is raised.
I drive around this island and I watch people rebuilding and I see them making the same mistakes they made in the first place over and over again. Long spans with inadequate materials. Incorrect and overly-wide spacings of rafters to save money on materials. Completely nonstructural joints at critical intersections. The most simple and basic correct practices and methods routinely ignored, guaranteeing as a matter of literal fact that the new roofs and structures will fail in exactly the same way as the old ones did.
When I see homeowners doing it themselves I recognize that these guys are doing the very best they can and to the limit of their knowledge. They aren't professionals and they don't know any better and are doing the best they can with the best they have to work with under brutal pressure to get something done. God bless them, and I hope it all works out, but when I see so-called professional contractors doing it simply makes me sad. Clients are paying big money to have things done badly and that is both a tragedy and completely avoidable.
And so comes my suggestion: What VROMI needs to do is simply get a copy of the Dade County, Florida, building code and adopt it as their own. Dade county in Florida has the toughest standards for new construction anywhere in the U.S. with the possible exception of the California earthquake standards. They are the result of generations of storms wreaking havoc on Florida and the Engineers there reacting with tougher and tougher codes and the results getting better and better. Just get a copy, take a Sharpie and cross out Dade County and write in “VROMI SXM“ and claim them as your own.
Then start making and enforcing a licensing and bonding system for contractors. Hold them accountable for their work and their failures. Drive the hacks out of business and allow the truly-skilled to flourish. It would require a rigid professional inspection regime carried out by, once again, professionals that know their job.
It will make a lot of people mad. Cries of “That's the way we always did it before” will ring out from the unskilled and uneducated who will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the realm of competence and knowledge. It will take great courage, strength and determination by someone in authority downtown to make sure that the system gets enforced, but over time and in the end, the culture will change and people will stop building badly and the devastation from bad storms will be vastly reduced.
It's not magic and it’s not rocket science. All that's required are real engineers with real degrees doing the designing, followed by competent contractors utilizing skilled workers to do the building, all being inspected on a rigid schedule by individuals with the power to say “NO, that does not meet code. Tear it out and do it right.”
I wonder if that courage actually exists here.
Editor’s note: What the editorial said was that the need to prepare for category 5-plus hurricanes at this point would be obvious to any developer. A building permit has been issued, meaning the current conditions were met. If more stringent requirements are needed, Government must indeed put them in place, but the project should not be dismissed beforehand for lack of such, never mind that the initiator has an existing property in the same area that reportedly stood up to Irma relatively well.