PFP: Bridge Widening Priority of New MinTEATT May Conflict with Environmental Goals

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PHILIPSBURG – Party for Progress members of Parliament Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson shared concerns about the “100 days in office” plan that the recently sworn in Minister of TEATT, Mr. Leo Lambriex, announced over the weekend. In his first press release as Minister, Mr. Lambriex focused on a previously dormant plan to widen the Simpson Bay bridge, which he said would “allow larger mega, and so-called giga-yachts,” access to the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

“This priority project, as the Minister put it, is contradictory,” Gumbs states. “For one, a Government cannot claim to care about the environment, sustainability and climate change and then have the widening of the bridge as a priority project. The bridge was last widened when we were still the Netherlands Antilles; this helped, of course, to allow for the current mega-yachts to enter the lagoon. But even that came at an additional cost.”

The faction highlights that after the bridge widening had been completed, a few years later it was accompanied with the dredging of the Simpson Bay Lagoon. This, PFP states, is their primary concern; while the Minister did not mention dredging of the lagoon in his press statement, anyone paying attention can see that newly announced and already-on sale developments will be adding marina space that will require dredging to allow these vessels to reach their docks. In fact, the faction states, the simple mention of allowing access to giga-yachts means that widening the bridge goes beyond safety concerns on maneuverability. The faction hopes that the new Minister will be forthcoming about any accompanying plans attached to this proposed bridge-widening project.

“When Cupecoy began to develop, the original plan was to dredge a canal from the Simpson Bay bridge to Cupecoy,” Gumbs continues, “to allow entry and passage for these yacht classes. I want to make it clear to the public that we understand the significance of our tourism product, however, I think the public understands, which no government ever has, the very “final” nature of space and life on an island of 16 square miles. There is only so much development that the environment, in particular the lagoon, can take. At some point, if we are telling the truth about wanting to be sustainable and protective of our environment, then the Simpson Bay Lagoon will have to say “no, thank you” and tell these yachts to stay in the bay or allow the Philipsburg marinas, including the Port of St. Maarten, to accommodate what they can.”

“Even more concerning is the fact that the current water rights situation in the lagoon has not been resolved by the Ministry of VROMI,” states MP Peterson. He recalls a point where, as acting-Head of Domain Affairs, he directly made former Minister of VROMI Christopher Wever aware of a marina in the lagoon with more than NAF 1 million in outstanding long lease fees for water rights. Peterson recalls that the long lease owner was more than willing to pay the outstanding fees, but that this did not seem to be a priority for the then-Minister. Instead, the Alegria fiasco took centerstage, for which it is documented that Peterson was removed from his position by the same former Minister. Since then, three years have passed and Peterson questions whether the case, and many others like it, were ever resolved.

“We have our priorities mixed up,” Peterson adds. “The mega-yachts are paying extremely high fees to dock in the lagoon at the various marinas, yet the country seems to not get anything out of it, nor has the lagoon been maintained properly with these fees. The priority should be to fix all of the water rights issues by first collecting the outstanding fees within the lagoon, to perform a full environmental check on the status of the lagoon and its floor, and to begin focusing on actually cleaning the lagoon in its entirety, before we even think of expanding the bridge for even bigger boats start coming in.”

Gumbs stated that it was curious to her that this dormant plan of widening the bridge has been dusted off at the same time as the long-dormant Economic Development Corporation has been revived, with a new director.

“I’m curious to see if there will be another PJIA-like bondholders experiment done to obtain financing to widen the bridge and, possibly, dredge the lagoon,” Gumbs stated. “I suppose if and when we see the same folks behind that particular confusion start popping up, we’ll know for sure.”

The faction stated that they plan to monitor future statements regarding this proposed project, and that they plan to question the new Minister of TEATT and the Minister of VROMI on plans that were meant to revitalize the lagoon, rather than place further environmental stress on it, and what their plans are for those particular initiatives.