~ Seeks cooperation of authorities for temporary location ~
CAY BAY–US Laundry, the sole industrial laundry facility in St Maarten, which had been providing “hygienically clean” linen for use in primarily local health care facilities, is facing an investment of fifteen million euros to reconstruct its Hurricane Irma-ravaged facilities in Cay Bay.
In the interim, the company wants to operate at a temporary location so that it can keep some of its 50 employees on its payroll and continue providing its service in the interest of proper health care.
It is exploring the possibilities of obtaining permission to use the laundry facilities at a local resort which currently are not being used. The resort reportedly will be closed for a few months as it reconstructs, but its laundry facilities are said to be intact.
US Laundry is hoping for the intervention of authorities to convince the resort to allow it to use the resort’s facilities, but US laundry owner Hans van der Moot says he has had little success to date.
“We are ready to operate and we have everything, we just need a location, he said.”
Like many other businesses on the island, US Laundry was pulverised by the devastating winds of Hurricane Irma, when it ripped through the island on Wednesday, September 6.
US Laundry is an important organ in the country’s health care system, as it provides service to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), elderly homes, health care institutions and the food and hotel industry. Its role is to deliver hygienically clean linen according to international standards. Van der Moot said hygienically clean linen, is linen that has been cleaned according to hygienic standards developed to prevent risks of spreading of diseases.
The devastation to the facility was horrendous and this coupled with looting that followed rendered the company inoperable at its damaged location.
“The looting was a headache,” Van der Moot told The Daily Herald from the Netherlands, where he had evacuated 14 days after Hurricane Irma. “They stole everything. People weren’t completely crazy and stole more than 10,000 litres of gasoline in one day. A couple of hours after the hurricane our stock of US $300,000 to $350,000 of linen that was in storage was all looted. People were crazy, were walking with guns and we were afraid to walk on our own property.”
Although the hurricane and looting have deeply disappointed him, they have not deterred him from wanting to continue to operate in St. Maarten. Van der Moot said the damaged location has since been cleaned up and the foundation will be used to rebuild the laundry to establish a modern and even more advanced facility for professional services on the island.
“The plans are already prepared and discussions with experts, suppliers and consultants specialised in this type of processing are running,” he said. The company aims to process the first batch of linen in the new facility by April next year.
“It will take probably an investment of 15 million euros to have the full facility operational before the end of 2018, ensuring the availability of hygienically cleaned textiles for all clients step-by-step according to their needs [and eventually – Ed.] ending up with volume [that we used to – Ed.] deliver before the hurricane.”
However, Van der Moot said that for the facility to meet its rebuilding goals, the “good cooperation” of authorities is needed post-haste. He is hoping that things such as building permits, etc., won’t be a tedious and lengthy process, as this can cause serious delays.
“Of course, rebuilding our facilities and a modern industrial laundry plant requires time. But at the same time, the need for hygienical cleaned linen in health care and other areas to avoid diseases, etc., is also urgent. Up ’til now it appeared very difficult to explain the necessity of this restoration programme to the parties involved. Several attempts have been made to explain this and start cooperation to build a new plant immediately,” Van der Moot said.
“We will keep on putting efforts to come to a good understanding and open discussions with everybody involved to come to adequate solutions.”
As it relates to rebuilding, he is currently fighting a battle with his insurance company to cover the cost to rebuild the hurricane-damaged building and restore his facilities. He says the insurance company, an international company not based in St. Maarten, claims that US Laundry was not insured for hurricane damage. His attorneys are looking into the matter and he is willing to take it to court for coverage, but if this does not pan out, he is willing to make the investment to rebuild.
He has kept all his staff on the payroll for now, but he says the circumstances will change after two months if the situation remains unchanged. If he gets a temporary location to operate while he rebuilds, he can keep some staffers for longer.
Van der Moot, who will be returning to the island soon, said following the hurricane he informed and advised partners how they can hygienically clean sheets and towels, etc., that had been delivered earlier by the company, while he is temporarily out of service. US Laundry also supplied new textiles when needed, delivering them within five working days. “In this way all health care organisations and other clients could be helped with their [immediate – Ed.] necessities,” he said.
Prior to Hurricane Irma, US Laundry was a medium-scale industrial facility, equipped with state-of-the-art machines and processes. It used radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to monitor and steer the usage of each individual piece of textile. The company said it had been invited to participate at the Global Best Practice Award Programme as an excellent showcase of modern textile services at the Expo Detergo in Milan Italy in 2018.
With the assistance of its 50 employees, US Laundry delivered 70 tons of hygienical linen to clients on a weekly basis prior to Hurricane Irma. Since taking over the laundry five years ago, Van der Moot said he had invested heavily to upgrade productivity and quality of services according to international standards required today.
“A situation like this, where everybody is facing incredible problems in getting everything going again, there is need for intensive and good cooperation with clients, but certainly also with the authorities. All stakeholders need to work closely together to ensure that investments in new facilities, usage of resources like water and energy, operational planning and perspective … can be laid down in a well-balanced business plan. Only in that way will the restoration of laundry processing for our critical clients be achieved at short notice,” he said. (By Judy H. Fitzpatrick)