Rain Forest project leader John Dalton: Developing attraction park is still the best option”

POSTED: 09/26/12 12:22 PM

St. Maarten – While the court decision to lift the lien Rain Forest Adventures placed on the Emilio Wilson Estate seems to free the way for the estate’s purchase by the government, the company’s project leader and chief engineer John Dalton still believes that developing the attraction park is the best option. This is his reaction.

“The court ruling to lift the lien was based on changes to the financial structure that were made due to increases in the budget for the project and the commitment from Carnival, which both enhanced the viability of the project. The landowners were fully aware of these proposed changes and never objected to them. The first indication that they were against this arrangement came to us in the form of the injunction to lift the lien when an objection to the financial arrangements became convenient.

“Rain Forest Adventures has not been focused on collecting damages. Our mission is providing protection for the environment and education of the public with a sustainable, for profit model where we recognize that true sustainability only comes when all stakeholders benefit in the long term. The purpose of placing the lien on the property was to secure the transfer of land to our company so that we could go forward with building the RFA park as was agreed with the landowners and accomplishment of our mission.

“We continue to believe strongly in the mission and the benefits available to all stakeholders including: 1) the public 2) the environment 3) the tourism industry and 4) the government. Looking at relative benefits you can see why we continue with our efforts.

Realization of the RFA park will create 60 permanent jobs, mostly for local young people, Dalton points out. “There are also numerous spin off jobs in transportation and services, ongoing educational programs with regular visits by local school children, historical renovation of structures and dry stone walls, creation of a museum celebrating natural and human history, the Emilio Wilson story and St Maarten’s culture, an attractive local venue for weddings, musical events or just plain relaxing, a water retention system to help mitigate local flooding and land for an expanded retention system if government requests it, maintenance and preservation of the existing Emilio Wilson Park and adjacent football field, government purchase of 10 hectares ‘for the people’ which will be included the RFA reforestation plan.”

Selling the estate to the government will not create new jobs and also no spin off jobs. “As stated by Minister Marlin, there is “no blueprint for development”. No funding for improvements and maintenance of the structures and grounds which are basically unusable with the exception of the boiling house that is presently losing its roof, no maintenance or upgrading of the Emilio Wilson Park, or purchase of estate land ‘for the people’ to be managed by the non-governmental organizations.

Looking at the environmental impact, Dalton says that the construction footprint is just 3.6 percent of the estate land.Creation of the Rain Forest Foundation, which will be funded with $2 per visitor ($100,000 or more per year) and administered by a board of directors including one director from government, one from an NGO and one from RFA. The mission of the foundation will be to replant indigenous forest on the entire estate (think Mary’s Fancy) and maintain the Emilio Wilson Park. Primary energy source for base area infrastructure is designed to begin with GEBE and go solar in year 2. An extensive water retention/collection/distribution system is designed into the infrastructure for the replanting program. There will be a net reduction in flooding and runoff into the marine environment and increase in natural habitat for flora and fauna.”

Selling the estate to the government shows a different impact, Dalton says. “There would be a pre-approved permit for a 6 hectare subdivision which will create a 14% footprint (without considering the required entrance road). There are no replanting or water retention plans creating increased flooding and runoff into the marine environment.”

The attraction park will have a positive impact on the tourism industry, Dalton furthermore argues.Rain Forest Adventures was invited to St Maarten to see if we could create a ‘destination defining’ experience as we have done elsewhere. Tourists want to learn about the natural history and culture of the places they visit and have fun doing so, it really is very interesting, especially with a history like St Maarten has. This desire is widely recognized and proudly accommodated in most destinations. All things considered, the topography, ground water for reforestation and cultural heritage at the Emilio Wilson Estate make it an outstanding choice for success in our mission. Done correctly, with the indispensable help of local historians and naturalists, an eco-adventure and cultural park at the Emilio Wilson Estate will dramatically enhance the tourism offering and share St Maarten’s cultural heritage with the world.”

Again, Dalton says, selling the estate to the government will have a different effect.Large countries like the US have problems maintaining their national parks even with the use of private concessions to help with funding. The unintended result of the sale to the government without a solid financial plan in place would be further deterioration of the property.”

The attraction park will also impact government, Dalton points out.Government will experience an increase in tax revenue from both operation of the park and associated local business increases, regional acclaim for a unique reforestation program and a successful example of sustainable tourism. Government will realize of a national park with maintenance and reforestation programs at no cost to itself.”

Selling the estate to the government will, in Dalton’s opinion, lead to “loss of international credibility, loss of possible future international investment and the risk of liability due to two actions performed by the government.

“The first one is the encouragement of RFA to invest time and money in planning and receiving permits and subsequently blocking the permits by offering to purchase the land out from under us.

“The second one is offering a price that effectively values the land at more than twice what was previously agreed upon without any explanation to the public.”

Dalton says that the total value under the attraction park plan is $10 million ($4 million from Rain Forest and $6 million from the government). If the government buys the property the total value becomes $20.6 million ($17 million for the part of the estate the government wants to buy and $3.6 million as the value for the 60,000 square meters Brookson is allowed to keep for subdivision).

This amounts to “realization of a national park at grossly unnecessary expense to the public with no plan for renovation, operation or maintenance,” Dalton says. “This is a very emotional subject for the people of St Maarten and for good reason; the estate represents the core of the islands cultural heritage. However, viewing the facts objectively it is clear that the best result for all stakeholders lies with realization of the RFA park.”


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