Opinion: Thompson refutes editorial

POSTED: 01/16/14 2:54 PM

Dear Editor,


Board members and volunteers of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation (EWEF) read the editorial in the Daily Herald of Friday January 10th, 2014 with a great sense of disappointment and astonishment. The Editor’s poorly researched analysis of events surrounding the Emilio Wilson Estate offer an incorrect view of proposals to develop the Estate and of the local environmental organizations’ efforts to establish the Estate as a National Park for the people of Sint Maarten.


In the Editor’s analysis the Editor appears to lament the fact that Government made commitments to purchase and protect the Emilio Wilson Estate while a previous governing coalition had already issued a permit to Rain Forest Adventures to build and operate an amusement park at the Estate. The Editor, however, fails to mention that in issuing this controversial permit the UP-DP coalition did not follow proper procedures as outlined in the Monument Decree (“Landsbesluit, houdende algemene maatregelen, ter uitvoering van de Monumentenlandsverordening” /“Monumentenbesluit”).


The Monument Decree requires the Minister of Culture and Education to consult the Monument Council whenever a “monument permit” has been requested for the demolition or alteration of a monument, the decree also requires permits issued to be placed on public review. The Monument Council had not yet been reestablished at the time the permits in question were issued and thus could not have been consulted regarding a “monument permit” for the proposed amusement park at the Emilio Wilson Estate. In addition the “monument permit” for this amusement park was not placed on public review making the permit issued at that time illegal and questionable at best.


The Editorial goes on to boast that Rain Forest Adventures, the company bidding to build an amusement park at the Wilson Estate, operates similar facilities at protected areas in St. Lucia, Dominica, Costa Rica and Jamaica. The Editor apparently fails to realize that each of these countries is much larger than Sint Maarten and in most cases have numerous land based protected areas, while Sint Maarten has none! Jamaica for instance covers a surface area of some 4240 square miles while the Dutch side of St. Maarten covers only 16 square miles. In addition Jamaica has several large protected areas which cover hundreds of square miles. The negative effects on natural resources as a consequence of establishing a Rain Forest Adventures or similar Amusement Park in Jamaica are therefore comparatively much smaller than what they would be for Sint Maarten, a much smaller country with no land-based protected areas.


If the Editor had chosen to keep his analyses closer to home he may have come across the fact that Sint Maarten is the only island within the Dutch Caribbean that does not have a land-based protected area. Apparently the Editor did not pause to reflect on why Rain Forest Adventures or a similar company is not established on any of our sister islands. One is left to wonder if the Editor even attempted to investigate whether the management of the Christoffel Park in the Editor’s native Curacao or the management of Arikok National Park in Aruba would welcome the establishment of a Rain Forest Adventures Amusement park in their protected areas.


Had the Editor done any research at all he would have learnt that Rain Forest Adventures/ Trams in Dominica closed its doors from one day to the next in June of 2012. This left many Dominicans without a job while the foreign managers the company flies in to manage its amusement parks at all its destinations simply moved on to another site. According to reports received by the EWEF, infrastructure, carts and other material was left to rust and rot away in the forest of Dominica for months on end by Rain Forest Adventures a company which would like us all to believe protecting the environment is their priority.


The Editor mentions that Rain Forest Adventures “promised a low-impact development with sustainable construction practices”. It seems as though the Editor advocates that everyone just takes this company at their word. It should be noted that Rain Forest Adventures made no effort to have independent Environmental and Social-Cultural Impact Assessments carried out to analyze the effects of their proposed projects.


The Rain Forest Adventures plans included the construction of associated infrastructure and facilities on the hillside, top and along the ridges of Sentry Hill and upon completion would lead to undesirably high visitor traffic. The plans included the alteration of the natural rock formation, a unique aspect of St. Maarten’s natural heritage, at the top of the Emilio Wilson Estate for the placement of platforms, lifts and other infrastructure.


Rain Forest Adventures’ plans included permanent structures above the Sentry Hill’s 200 meter altitude line. These plans were therefore in violation of Sint Maarten’s hillside policy which states that “no building should occur on hill tops, ridges, and above the 200 meter altitude line”. As is the case with many of the Hills in the Cul de Sac valley, the area above 200 meters is the most ecologically significant area of the Sentry Hill/ Emilio Wilson Estate. The proposed Rain Forest Adventures Amusement Park and related activities would have a permanent and undesirable impact on the Flora and Fauna of the area both during and after construction. Perhaps the Editor would care to explain how such devastating plans could possibly be considered “low impact” and “sustainable”.


The Editor ends his analysis with the statement that matters surrounding the Emilio Wilson Estate have come to “full circle”. The Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation disagrees as in our opinion matters surrounding the Emilio Wilson Estate will only have come to “full circle” once Sint Maarten’s heritage is protected and the Estate is established as the island’s first land-based protected area and National Park.


In closing the EWEF kindly reminds the Editor that Editorials should be based on objective reasoning and impartial evaluation rather than on unsubstantiated, clearly subjective opinions and political favoritism.


On behalf of the board of the Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation,


Rueben J. Thompson


Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation


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