Pride objects to filling-in of the Great Salt Pond

POSTED: 10/5/12 1:13 PM

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Pride Foundation filed a formal protest with Vromi-minister William Marlin against the filling-in of the Great Salt Pond for the construction of a cricket stadium and a drag racing strip.
The foundation refers to articles in the constitution, to laws about the protection of nature and the environment that St. Maarten has taken over from the former Netherlands Antilles, and to the island ordinance for environmental management and protection to supports its objections. The 2007 final report environmental standards that sets limits for air, noise, water, waste water, and garbage is also brought into the discussion. (For more about the noise levels from drag racing see our opinion page).
“The Great Salt Pond played a prominent role in St. Maarten’s and the Kingdom’s history due to its immense size and central location, particularly in the wide scale salt mining industry that started with the Dutch around 1631,” Pride notes in the letter. “Salt was collected from the Great Salt Pond and subsequently exported all over the world or used locally to conserve food. The last commercially significant salt reaping occurred in the 1940’s. Many Sint Maarteners are descendants of people who worked in the Great Salt Pond during and after slavery, a fact that makes the pond an important aspect of the island’s and the Kingdom’s heritage.”
Pride furthermore points out that the Great Salt Pond was officially registered as a monument in 2009 and that the cricket stadium will destroy a large part of it. The foundation also notes that the pond serves as a natural cache for run-off water from the surrounding hills. “Government commissioned reports have advised government to expand the island’s rain water storage capacity. Even partially filling the Great Salt Pond will significantly reduce water storage capacity. It is likely to have drastic consequences for the surrounding areas as excess run-off water will lead to additional flooding of the already overburdened districts adjacent to the pond,” the letter states.
Already in January 2010, Pride was concerned about the sand that was dumped in the pond for the construction of the ill-fated ring road. Stories are floating around about stealth plans to create more land than is needed for the road, and for giving this land in long lease to as yet unknown parties, Pride Foundation vice president Rueben Thompson wrote at the time in an email to this newspaper.
To which the head of the new works department, ing. Kurt Ruan reacted with: “This is absolutely not true. It does happen that the truckers deposit sand in the wrong place, but in the end we will not fill in more of the pond than is absolutely necessary for the road. We have to take the retention capacity of the Great Salt Pond into account.”
Ruan said that Public Works will conduct a measurement once the sand trucking is completed, to make sure that there is not more sand in the pond than there should be. “If we find that there is too much, we will remove it,” he said.
Thompson however maintained that there was more to the project than meets the eye: “Much more of the Great Salt Pond is being filled-in than the plans placed on public review in May of last year indicated. Recent media reports that land around the ring road has been proposed for long lease speak volumes and hint at government having much more elaborate plans than just the ring road.”
The Great Salt Pond is also of ecological and environmental importance, Pride stated in its letter to Minister Marlin. “It is also an important feeding, breeding and nesting area for numerous species of migratory and resident birds.”
The proposed location for the drag race strip is “in close proximity to a number of residential areas,” Pride states in its letter. “Emissions and noise pollution will likely exceed the norms for St. Maarten.”
The foundation refers to an article in the constitution that states “It shall be the constant concern of the government to keep the country habitable and to protect and improve the natural environment and the welfare of animals.”
“It is inexcusable and incomprehensible and government would commission the filling-in of the Great Salt Pond in the first place. Moreover, that the government would do so without following the proper stakeholder consultation, research and permit procedures. Activities such as the illegal dumping of sand into the Great Salt Pond should not be condoned or legalized by government after the fact,’ the letter states.
Pride calls on the government “to take the appropriate measures towards the removal of illegally dumped sand and the restoration of the affected areas.”
The Foundation also urges Minister Marlin to draft and implement a zoning plan for the pond.

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