Opinion: Simpson Bay Development Plan makes no economic sense

POSTED: 06/1/14 11:39 PM

Dear Editor,

The Citizens for Positive Change Party (CPC), a newly formed political party contesting the 2014 parliamentary elections, is of the firm opinion that the draft Simpson Bay Development Plan does not meet the internationally accepted criteria for sustainable development from an economic, social or environmental perspective.

CPC will summarize why the draft Simpson Bay Development Plan does not meet said criteria in a series of 3 articles. This first one will focus on why the plan does not make sense from an economic perspective. The CPC encourages stakeholders and residents to file objections letter before the deadline of June 3 – next Tuesday.

Regarding the Airport expansion:

Q1 – Does our airport need expanding from a regulation standpoint?

Just look at Gibraltar or Honduras airports to name a few airports with surrounding challenges. Obviously international standards will tolerate a lot. PJIA has hosted Concords and even an Antonov flying in GEBE generators, so what changed – except maybe regulations?According to information presented during the public hearing on the draft Simpson Bay development plan the proposed airport expansion is not an international requirement but rather a desire of the airport.

Q2 – Does the airport need expanding from a business perspective?

Except for a couple of hours a day for a limited amount of days per year, our airport can hardly be termed to be bursting at the seams. It is safe to say that the majority of the time, there is hardly any activity at all. So if it is about capacity, the first move needs to be towards maximum use of what is there. For instance: increase early morning and evening activity. Increase low season activity by more actively pursuing markets other than the North American market from where most of our tourists originate. There is no reason why the current size of the airport cannot accommodate more arrivals. From this perspective an expansion is not warranted.

Q3 – Is additional parking for private jets really needed?

Perhaps additional space is necessary for a few days per year. Does Sint Maarten really need to sacrifice another portion of what remains of the Simpson Bay Lagoon for space that will only be used for a very short period (several days) each year? Sint Maarten has already sacrificed large parts of the lagoon to land reclamation projects to facilitate residential and commercial development.  Has the airport considered the negative consequences that further deterioration of the Simpson Bay Lagoon will have on the (marine) tourism industry?

Regarding the marine developments:

Q4 – Do the people of Simpson Bay and by extension the rest of Sint Maarten need a cruise terminal in Simpson Bay?

It is now the month of May and the cruise terminal at the harbor can hardly be termed busy. Before an expansion is warranted, the maximum capacity of the current facility needs to be met. There are enough buses and taxis to arrange trips to Simpson Bay if cruise passengers want to visit that area. Furthermore, will the proposed cruise terminal in Simpson Bay be like the one in Pointe Blanche, where the taxpayer who owns it, cannot make reasonable use of it?

Q5 – Is a boardwalk along the lagoon a good idea?

Some people will benefit, some will lose what they have now. There is little consideration for parking. CPC envisions that when the existing proposal is carried out, it will lead to even more traffic congestion in an already congested area. While the Philipsburg boardwalk has been great for the cruise passengers, it has hardly contributed to any increased nighttime business centered around residents and stay-over visitors. Grand Case is a good example of the fact that there is no need for a boardwalk to do brisk business. The boardwalk proposal is furthermore unrealistic because much of the land at the proposed locations is already occupied by marinas, stores and other commercial facilities. At this stage, a boardwalk would result in further filling-in and encroachment on the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

There is too little space set aside in the Simpson Bay development plan for recreation: to the contrary much of the areas currently used for recreation purposes will be zoned for commercial use as per the current draft. The airport expansion plans are expensive so operational costs will go up which will most likely be passed on to the users of the airport: airlines having to pay more in landing fees (to the detriment of our competitive position in the region) and travelers having to pay more in departure/service fees (both residents and tourists).

Based on the above, we can safely state that the Simpson Bay development plan is not scoring high from a sustainability perspective.

These proposals are supposedly intended to stimulate economic growth, often expressed in the form of employment. In this case, the majority of the employment opportunities are during the construction period, after which Sint Maarten still has to deal with the seasonality of tourism arrivals. The same short-term contracts etc. Not everybody can work at the airport, certainly not when there are no planes arriving.

Alternative employment:

If funding can be found for boardwalks, piers and airports, then surely funding can be made available for establishing and operating parks, green areas, playgrounds and outdoor facilities in general. The objective would be that these would have a low threshold access for everyone: residents and visitors.

Since the airport can afford to purchase waterfront properties for the proposed airport expansion (like the Turtle Pier Restaurant), why not consider investing in the protection and maintenance of natural and cultural resources instead? Would it not be desirable to purchase beachfront property to increase public access to our beaches? Sint Maarten can invest in establishing a center for visual and performing arts, a national parks system, create nature trails and expand the museum just to name a few examples.

Sint Maarten must secure means to decrease the seasonality of the tourism-based economy. The airport should facilitate this by launching or improving marketing efforts in countries where people tend to go on vacation during the period Sint Maarten experiences its low season. Currently, Sint Maarten experiences its high (tourism) season during the winter months of the northern hemisphere.  The larger portion of Sint Maarten’s marketing resources are spent or aimed at the North American market.  For years private sector representatives, tourism consultants and others have advocated that more substantial attention should be paid to increasing marketing in the South American market. Such strategies have however never been made a consistent priority.

In addition to the aforementioned with the implementation of the right incentives, Sint Maarten can create additional opportunities for services that complement existing components of the tourism based economy, like for example boatbuilding and repair. Currently there are a number of individuals on the island following boatbuilding classes. Sint Maarten has large marine industry resources that sit idle in the low season. Boatbuilding and an additional focus on repairs would create employment in the off-season when it is most needed.

Sint Maarten can choose to maintain the Simpson Bay Lagoon, a part of the island’s natural heritage upon which the tourism-based economy relies, or chose to destroy the lagoon for privately owned jets that will only be here for a short period per year. In essence, it is a choice between protecting our economic resources, in this case the Simpson Bay Lagoon, and building a parking lot for jets which would sit empty for months at a time. In the end, it is about what we collectively decide to do. It should in any case be a democratic decision. In a couple of months, you will be presented with a choice on how you want to move forward. Citizens for Positive Change (CPC) urges you to use it wisely.

 

Citizens for Positive Change

www.positivechangesxm.com

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