How green is the Golden Rock? (St. Eustatius (Statia))

POSTED: 01/9/12 4:53 PM
The Ecology Global Network published a four-part series written by Betsy Crowfoot about the looming Nu Star oil terminal expansion in Statia. The Island Council is considering an expansion with 30 to 40m oil tanks at the Farm, about one kilometer from the island’s capital Oranjestad. At the author’s request, we publish part III of the series today. The last part in the series will appear tomorrow.

By Betsy Crowfoot
Even as St. Eustatius (Statia) was putting the final touches on its Spatial Development Plan last spring, NuStar Energy LLP was forging ahead with preparations for a second oil terminal on the small central-Caribbean Island.
Already the Fortune 500 Company has more than 60 storage tanks on the north end of Statia: their largest terminal, according to NuStar’s annual report. And the company hopes to add 30-some additional tanks to an island roughly five miles long by two miles wide. However, their preferred site – a 10-minute walk from downtown Oranjestad – was not zoned for industrial use as such.
But with the island’s Strategic Development Plan adopted and the Spatial plan imminent, the handwriting was on the wall. NuStar hurriedly commenced preparation for the expansion: so hastily, the company’s own Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) repeatedly stated surveyors were unable to fully assess risks to island flora and fauna, due to the rushed timeframe.
The proposed terminal site hugs iconic Signal Hill, in the central populated third of the island. Originally designated by the strategic plan as a natural park, with a heritage trail planned through the historic ruins, the spatial plan expanded the purposing to business usage. NuStar subsequently applied to the island government to re-zone that parcel of land, to allow grading along Signal Hill and construction of 30 to 40, 100-foot (31m) high oil storage and processing tanks.
But those designations did not stop NuStar from clearing the land, under the guise of an archaeological briefing: one which ultimately would call the parcel, “the largest concentration of archaeological sites of any area of comparable size in the Americas.”
In July, Judge René van Veen of Statia’s Court of First Instance denied an injunction to halt the excavations, stating that the Treaty of Malta prohibited archaeological remains from being damaged.
But Walter Hellebrand, Director of the St. Eustatius Monuments Foundation (SEMF), indicated one of the historic buildings had already been dismantled. And NuStar’s own commissioned study announced plans to grade the land for the installation would be devastating. “All archaeological remains … higher than 65 feet (20m) will be destroyed, while all archaeological sites lower than this will be covered up and possibly damaged and destroyed.”
Meanwhile, the REA was assigned to Royal Haskoning, an independent consulting firm, who warned the project jeopardized several of the islands rare and native species, even as the firm grumbled about the insufficient time allotted for the study.
Those rare and endemic species include three small reptiles, the endangered Red Bellied Racer snake and several birds that breed in limited areas; including the Red Billed Tropicbird – said to number only 7,500 worldwide. Two of three tropicbird breeding colonies lie within or adjacent the expansion zone: a serious concern considering these birds are known to abandon their nests if disturbed, during incubation and chick rearing. Guarding their well being is all the more imperative as Red Billed Tropicbird nests on neighboring Saba have been devastated by predation, “making the viability of the St. Eustatius population critical to the wider success of the species,” the REA read.
Similarly, concerns were expressed regarding the Lesser Antillean Iguana – a protected and vulnerable species living directly within the proposed footprint. This critically endangered iguana has already suffered serious decline due to habitat destruction and other factors, and is thought to thrive on the Sugar Apple tree – many of which will also be eradicated if the plan goes through.
The nation of the Netherlands has a history as a leader in conservation and sustainability since the 1980s. Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard, the 73-year monarch, is highly educated and degreed in law, and recognized as spearheading sentiment toward environmentalism in 1988 – in all of Europe, as much as the Netherlands. Subsequently a national environmental policy was established, calling for the world’s first sustainable economy. Indeed, the green buzz in the Netherlands became so popular, it was said their call to action – “A better environment begins with you” – was more familiar than the most popular beer jingle.
“I distrust the Dutch,” admitted Hellebrand. “Their agenda is not ours. They don’t live here. What do they care if The Farm (the expansion site) is going to be turned into an industrial zone? They are going to get the tax.”
Complicating the expansion issue is the Netherlands interest in tax revenue generated on the island. Since October 2010, when the Netherland Antilles was dissolved and Statia became a municipality of a nation nearly 5,000 miles (8,000km) away, any taxes generated by NuStar will go to the Netherlands.
Many townspeople expressed a feeling of apathy about their ability to alter the plans of the government and NuStar, likening it to “David and Goliath.”

Kenneth Cuvalay, Coordinator of the St. Eustatius Awareness and Development (SEAD) Movement charged, “NuStar figures, ‘We can buy everything to get our way.’ Its economic arrogance: to the extent they went to the Netherlands and hired one of the most prestigious lobbying institutions to lobby the entire Dutch Parliament!” NuStar has retained former Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard “Ben” Bot as a lobbyist in The Hague.
“Apparently NuStar finds it more important to spend thousands and thousands of euros on a very expensive, high profile lobbyist, than on researching alternative locations,” for the terminal expansion, added Hellebrand.
Cuvalay said, “It’s not unique to Statia: it’s what multinational corporations do in the most vulnerable parts of the world. Where else does a company enjoy special tax agreements, no anchorage fees, find cheap labor; and an almost absence of unions, environmental groups, and environmental law control bodies?
“Take the UN assessment in relation to Ogoniland, Nigeria … it shows how it will take them 25 to 30 years to clean up the mess that Shell created … Poor people are dying, and it’s their poor and corrupt government that gave them (Shell) the leeway to operate. It’s how multinational corporations get away with it … and after the fact, there are the consequences the community has to deal with.”
“When you look at Statia, we are a fishery. We have volcanic soil: we are agriculture. Sunshine. Solar panels, and all kinds of clean alternatives for energy and sustainable economies should be promoted – the government is putting more money and regulations that there should be all new clean, alternative energies – but on Statia, they are not. We are just a dirty isle with a stinking oil establishment.”
While SEAD has presented a petition to The Hague, a group of Parliamentarians will be visiting the island January 6 to assess the situation firsthand. Opponents to the expansion are hopeful for a reprieve, and at least one Member of the Second Chamber, Ronald van Raak, appeared to be on their side. The St. Maarten Daily Herald reported van Raak as being, “critical of the expansion” and quoted him as saying, “It concerns a lot of money and oil on a small island with fragile and beautiful nature and heritage. This expansion will change Statia’s face fundamentally and for always.”
If the expansion goes through, added Hellebrand, “At some point in the future children will see photos of how it was before the oil terminals took over the island, and look at their parents and say, ‘This was Statia? And you let this happen?’”

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Comments (1)

 

  1. Warren Moise says:

    I came to the island for the first time from America this week to do historical research. It is a historical and archeological treasure being ignored by the Dutch. The huge tanks are like an ugly scar across the island.