Opinion: Unprofessional and unbecoming

POSTED: 12/23/13 2:01 PM

Dear Editor,

Please allow us some space in your well-read publication to comment on Minister Lake’s statements in the local media this past Saturday with regards to the most recent filling-in of the Simpson Bay Lagoon for the airport expansion project and the Minister’s opinion on Sint Maarten Pride Foundation.

Permit us to firstly inform your readers that Pride Foundation and EPIC met with representatives of the Airport, Lievense Consulting Engineers N.V. and Nature Foundation on May 25th, 2012 concerning the Airport Expansion project and the Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIA) Lievense was commissioned to carry-out.

During this meeting Pride Foundation informed the project’s principals that Pride would never under any circumstances support plans for the filling-in of any portion of the Simpson Bay Lagoon. The Foundation acknowledged that the project would continue despite its objections and therefore urged the Airport and Lievense to carry-out a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIA). The Foundation expressed its serious concerns for quality control of the planned activities as in the past environmental studies have been drafted only to be completely ignored by government and contractors during the execution of the project. The Foundation therefore requested the Airport and Lievense to guarantee that the recommendations of the EIA would be properly implemented and adhered to. Pride furthermore requested the Airport and Lievense to keep the Foundation informed about the expansion plans and to provide Pride with copies of the Environmental Impact Assessment once it had been compiled.

Pride would like to make it emphatically clear that the Foundation was not informed that the Airport and or the Ministry of VROMI intended to start the filling-in of the Lagoon this past week. Pride Foundation received a copy of the minutes of the aforementioned meeting on May 28th, 2012 and had no subsequent contact with the Airport or Lievense on the matter.

While commenting on the filling-in of the Lagoon for the Airport Expansion, in the local media this past Saturday, Minister Lake stated the following: “All was planned and done “by the book” in cooperation with relevant stake holders such as the Nature Foundation.”

Sint Maarten Pride Foundation would hereby like to ask the Minister who he considers “relevant stakeholders”. Why were the general public and other stakeholders not informed of the intention to start filling-in the lagoon for the airport expansion? Is the general public not considered a stakeholder with regards to the Simpson Bay Lagoon? Would informing the general public and other Lagoon stakeholders of the start of the project, through perhaps a townhall meeting and notices in the local media not have been the proper way to proceed?

In his statement to the media the minister went on to state that “I have given written permission and all have followed proper procedures and regulations”. The Minister added that an environmental study had been conducted by the airport in collaboration with Nature Foundation.

Pride requests the Minister to provide the Foundation with the written permission and Environmental Impact Study he refers to. The Foundation reminds the Minister that Environmental Impact Assessment Studies are carried out to identify the potential environmental impacts of a project and to determine any alternatives or mitigation measures. From the minister’s comments it seems he fails to understand that Environmental Impact Assessment Studies contain recommendations which should be implemented. Drafting an EIA only to completely ignore the recommendations is an exercise in futility.

The Minister claims that “all have followed proper procedures and regulations”. Yet upon Pride’s inspection of the ongoing filling-in of the Lagoon last week the Foundation concluded that no suitable mitigation measures, were included into the design of the works to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse impacts to the lagoon environment.

Pride Foundation has repeatedly urged the Ministry of VROMI to include Best Environmental Management Practices and suitable requirements to mitigate environmental impacts in the permits the ministry issues. The Foundation is therefore dismayed to conclude that no mitigating measures were taken in preparation of the filling activities in the lagoon this past week.

Any comprehensive EIA and proper permits would require mitigation measures to be in place for the work currently being carried out in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

The Minister furthermore stated that “he was happy to note that Pride Foundation is waking up from slumber and asking questions, but that Nature Foundation had been on top of things and in discussion with all parties while Pride Foundation slept”.

Sint Maarten Pride Foundation reminds the Minister that Pride is a non-profit, non-governmental environmental awareness organization with a large support base amongst the community of Sint Maarten. The Foundation does not have allegiances to any political party on the island and has always continued to voice its concerns, provide advice and when necessary file objections to public and private projects regardless of which political party or coalition is in power. Anyone who has been paying attention to the media knows that Pride has been uncompromisingly consistent and unambiguous regarding its advocacy for the protection of Sint Maarten’s Natural and Cultural Heritage.

In accusing Pride Foundation of being inactive, slumbering and sleeping the Minister is blatantly insulting the dozens of community based groups, hundreds of school children and members of the community at large, the current and future electorate, who support and participate in Pride’s numerous yearly environmental awareness and clean-up activities. Minster Lake would do well to realize that Pride is the medium through which many members of the general public voice their concerns regarding the environment. The Foundation challenges the Minister to participate in a public debate with Sint Maarten Pride Foundation regarding his vision for the Natural and Cultural Heritage of Sint Maarten and his opinions of Sint Maarten Pride Foundation.

Although Sint Maarten Pride Foundation is incredibly disappointed the Foundation’s board is not surprised by Minister Maurice Lake’s comments which were not only unprofessional, unsubstantiated and incorrect but were also completely unbecoming of any self-respecting government official.

Sint Maarten Pride Foundation

 

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