Dutch Quarter residents protest against upgradePOSTED: 05/16/12 1:42 PM
St. Maarten – Dutch Quarter residents engaged in protest action yesterday against what they called the impending flood that would accompany a new drainage system that was placed at the head of Zorg-en-Rust. The protest began with portions of the A.T Illidge Road at the district’s entrance and exit being barricaded. Traffic had to be diverted away from the area. The police remained on the scene to ensure that the demonstration remained peaceful.
Spokesman for the group Andrew Arndell said that, “it is time that we as St.Maarten people stand up for a lot of things that the government is doing wrong. What they are giving us here is garbage; we as taxpayers are giving too much money to place a pipe in a hole. None of the drainage is good; they have nothing to break down the water that is going down the road. The next problem we will have is the roundabout in Belvedere. It will get damaged because of the water and houses in that area will also be flooded.”
Arndell and other residents who appeared to have some knowledge about drainage and irrigation systems opined that the pipe that was placed in the gaping hole at Zorg-en- Rust would be insufficient to contain water flowing down from Mount Willem Hill as well as the surrounding areas of Dutch Quarter. They said that the alertness of a few residents may have averted a major disaster. “Had we not stopped this, they would have sealed it off already. They came with a concrete truck yesterday to cover the whole thing and we stopped them. We cannot accept this.”
The hole at the center of the controversy forms part of the almost 3 million guilder contract that was awarded to Windward Roads in January last year to upgrade drainage and beautify Dutch Quarter. The first phase of the project dealt with widening of the mouth of the main drain and running drains under the road to help the water flow down to the roundabout just outside of Belvedere.
Phase two of the project is the upgrading of side streets in Dutch Quarter and phase three is the beautification of the main road. The latter includes putting in sewerage lines, sidewalks, street lights and bus stops. Utility companies will also lay their lines underground during this process.
“There are a lot of houses around here that have flooded previously and nobody compensated them for the stuff they lost. There is a blind man living here who can’t see the water. Now they are talking about phase one and phase two. We got the full cooperation of the police and they said that we had the permission to exercise our right. We will continue to protest until things change,” Arndell said.
Senior citizen Veronica Arndell is the caretaker of a family property at the entrance of Zorg-en-Rust. “Who gave the government permission to cut away from land that does not belong to them? They cut a trench on our property and now they have to widen it to build whatever they are building. What will we see next? When heavy rain falls, we are walking in water almost up to our knees. I can close my eyes and show them every area where water flows from the hill to the main road.”
Zickele Joseph, an employee of subcontractor Avalon Design and Construction was very vocal in his objection to the way works are being carried out in the area. Joseph, a resident of Dutch Quarter said that he has firsthand experience working on the road daily and fears that the lack of safety mechanisms may one day harm someone. “I will continue to speak for my people. They have no safety rails. Without railings a car could fly into the gutter. The gutter is wide enough but intake is not good; flashflood could devastate us.”
The demonstration started around eight and ended after lunch just as the consulting engineers for the project, Lievense, came on the scene. They spoke with the head of the Department of New Projects, Development and Planning Kurt Ruan who responded to the scene and attempted to appease the protesters.
Ruan admitted that “they were legitimate concerns with regards to how the works are being carried out. The residents also looked at the overall safety and flooding in the area. This Monday we will sit down with contractor Windward Roads, consultant engineer Lievense, government representatives and residents of Dutch Quarter.”
Ruan expects the discussion to be fruitful; “I think we could talk of a win-win situation to solve the problem.” Before settling the impasse, the engineers told residents that completing works on the main road was their priority but they would not mind revising their drawings and redirecting the drainage pipes if necessary.
When asked if residents were consulted during the planning and implementation stages of the Dutch Quarter drainage project, Ruan said “definitely we had consultation but their concerns came today as a result of the humongous hole that was created and the way the water would flow.”