Causeway project started, environment ignored

POSTED: 05/14/12 1:25 PM

Thompson (Epic): “When were the building permits on public review?”

St. Maarten – A dredger dumping sludge and sand into the Simpson Bay Lagoon at the end of the airport’s runway last week set off alarm bells with Rueben Thompson, the independent project manager for Epic’s Love the Lagoon project. According to Thompson the contractor is not using silt screens thereby defying a recommendation from the environmental impact study Ecovision wrote for the causeway across the lagoon.

Thompson wonders whether the dredger’s activities are part of the causeway project. “If this is so when were the building permits for this project issued and when were they on public review?”

The Minister who initiated the causeway-project, Theo Heyliger, is no longer in office since Friday midnight and his most likely successor, National Alliance-leader William Marlin, will now have to deal with the issue as soon as he is sworn in.

Thompson refers to Ecovision’s environmental impact study that was published two years ago, in April 2010. The study is an appendix to a report entitled Inventory of marine natural values in the eastern part of the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

The report recommends the following for the construction of the causeway aka Link 9. “It is recommended that silt screens be used at the construction sites in the lagoon to prevent heavy sedimentation and prevent loss of sea grass cover.”

Thompson wonders why the contractor does not adhere to this recommendation. “Do the principals plan to do away with all the recommendation in the impact study?”

Ecovision writes in the impact study that the bridge construction “in conjunction with pollution and sedimentation will negatively impact the survival of all organisms occurring in the affected areas.”

The study furthermore notes that on the eastern side of the lagoon (where the causeway will connect to Union road next to Port de Plaisance  the project will cause damage to the still existing black mangrove stands. “Certain damage seems to be unavoidable and is probably outweighed by the bridge’s economic and infrastructural importance; such damage needs to be minimized and appropriately compensated.”

Volker Stevin Caribbean, the contractor that executes the project, will create an operational base at the western side of the lagoon that the Simpson Bay Lagoon authority plans to use later on to treat sewage collected from yachts.

On the eastern side, the contractor has already stated to clear a piece of land from Union Road towards the lagoon.

Epic’s Rueben Thompson is still not convinced that the causeway is the answer to the island’s traffic congestion problems. In February 2009 Epic and the St. Maarten Pride Foundation published a paper outlining their position on road network expansion projects and those statements are still valid today, Thompson says.

“Much of the island government’s actions and projects aimed at the alleviation of traffic congestion have only focused on the expansion of road networks,” the two organizations stated three years ago. Various government policy plans, government commissioned reports and independent studies have however indentified the alarming number of vehicles on St. Maarten as the primary cause of traffic congestion.”
The environmentalists referred to the 2005 Tourism Master Plan and its recommendations for long term solutions. One idea was to increase the road or registration taxes for excessively large cars; the second idea was to introduce a regulated public transportation system with proper bus stops and related amenities. A third idea was to regulate the car rental sector and to limit the number of rental vehicles as well as the number of licenses for car rental businesses.

Epic and Pride maintain that expanding the road network will do nothing to diminish congestion. “Building new roads without taking additional measures to improve existing roads, improve public transportation and curb the increase of vehicles on the island is merely a very temporary measure and consequently an ineffective and unsustainable strategy for resolving the island’s congestion challenges,” they wrote in their position paper.

“Research and experience in many countries show that increased road capacity is very quickly filled with what researchers have dubbed induced vehicle traffic. People tend to abandon public transportation and carpools when additional road space is made available through new road construction or linkages, thereby resulting in more cars on the road and subsequently more traffic congestion.”


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