Opinion: Protect the entire Emilio Wilson Estate

POSTED: 01/16/12 12:56 PM

By Rueben Thompson

Much has been said over the past few years about the Emilio Wilson Estate. In recent months the estate has again become the center of controversy as an American company “Rain Forest Adventures” has submitted permit requests to build an amusement park on the former plantation. Please allow me to present the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation’s (EWEF) position on both the Emilio Wilson Estate itself and the Rain Forest Adventures plans for an Amusement park at the estate.

The EWEF’s position on the estate is simple. The Emilio Wilson Estate should be established as a National Park for the protection of the area’s natural and cultural-historical value but also for the long-term welfare of St. Maarten’s residents. Spending time in green open spaces such as the Emilio Wilson Estate has been shown to improve people’s health happiness and overall wellbeing. From and economic perspective St. Maarten’s Natural and Cultural Heritage, and the Emilio Wilson Estate itself, forms the Foundation of the island’s tourism driven economy. The durability of St. Maarten’s tourism product greatly depends on the level of nature conservation and environmental care and requires a balance between tourism and the natural environment.

The EWEF’s goal is to turn the Estate into the “Emilio Wilson Estate Ecological and Historical Centre and Protected Area” much like Curacao’s Christoffel Park, Aruba’s Parke Arikok and Puerto Rico’s many protected areas.

Government made commitments to the people of St. Maarten from September 2005 through July 2008 by implementing a number of basic measures towards the protection of the Emilio Wilson Estate, including placing the entire area on the monument list. The ball is therefore very much in Government’s court and it is the task of Parliament and the Council of Ministers to pursue all possible legal and financial means necessary to realize their commitment to the people of St. Maarten. In short it is up to our elected officials to zone and purchase the entire Emilio Wilson Estate for the benefit of current and future generations of St. Maarteners.

The Rain Forest Adventures Golden Rock Park proposal for an Amusement Park on the Wilson Estate is a prime example of the misuse of our Natural and Cultural Heritage. The Company advertises its vision to be focused on “Developing Conservation Awareness” its mission claims to “sustain the environment and help conserve our natural resources while providing a world class eco-tourism experience”. Yet the company has made no effort to have independent Environmental and Social-Cultural Impact Assessments made to analyze the effects of their proposed projects. Nor do their plans mention alternative locations, why the focus on Sentry Hill/ Emilio Wilson Estate, has the company considered relatively less sensitive areas such as Madame Estate or in the vicinity of the Indigo Bay project?

As much as the Rainforest adventures group would like us all to believe that their project is environmentally friendly, ecologically sound and geared at the protection of our heritage, the reality of the matter is that the proposal is aimed at the maximization of income in the short term through the mass exploitation of St. Maarten’s heritage.

The Rain Forest Adventures’ media campaign and promises that visitors to their proposed amusement park will be funnelled through the plantation house where they will learn about the island’s history, culture, the estate and its namesake the late Emilio Wilson” is nothing more than green washing. The company is spending more money and time on misleading Public Relations Campaigns, advertising it’s supposed environmentally friendly intentions than it actually does on protecting the natural environment.

The Rain Forest Adventures’ “Golden Rock Park Proposal” does not sufficiently protect and promote the Emilio Wilson Estate’s Natural, Cultural and historical attributes and therefore does not meet the vision the Foundations have for the Estate.

People of St. Maarten please do not be fooled by media campaigns such as the one the Rain Forest Adventures Company has recently started in support of its mass tourism amusement park plans for the Emilio Wilson Estate.

Too many of St. Maarten’s hillsides, ponds and other coastal areas have been sacrificed for tourism related development. We are jeopardizing our own wellbeing and the viability of our tourism driven economy through the systematic destruction of the very Foundation on which it is built: St. Maarten’s Natural and Cultural Heritage. The time has come to safeguard the natural heritage we have left.

The author is a board member of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation and the Vice President of the St. Maarten Pride Foundation.

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