Ring road project moved to 2018 W-t-E plant “within four years”

POSTED: 01/20/16 6:13 PM

Philipsburg - birds eye view - vromiVromi presents Ministry Plan 2015-2018

St. Maarten – The first phase of the ring road will be executed in 2018 and the structural maintenance of Front Street and Back Street will be tackled this year. This appears from the Ministry Plan 2015-2018 of the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure. The port will invest 3 million guilders in the maintenance of the two city-center streets and the government projects capital investment of 12 million guilders in 2018 in the hard surfacing of the first phase of the ring road. The waste-to-energy plant has been turned into a mid-term project. The ministry foresees its development “within the coming four years.”

The 42-page Ministry Plan gives a comprehensive insight into the vision, the organization, the strategic objectives and the finances of the Vromi-ministry.

After decades of uncontrolled development, Minister Angel Meyers’ department now focuses on sustainable development. The plan quotes the definition from the Brundtland report (so named after Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway): “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The Brundtland-report, entitled Common Future, was released almost thirty years ago, in 1987.

Tourism-related development over de last decades has had a dramatic impact on our island’s environment and its natural resources, the Ministry Plan states. “The tourism development has generated tremendous economic activity that has attracted masses to the island in search of economic opportunities. It has also resulted in dramatic population growth, and unbridled spatial development to accommodate housing and other needed services for the population, to the extent that the natural environment, resources and infrastructure of the island were severely challenged to cope.”

The report notes that there have been “many positive developments” but also “developments that have had adverse spatial effects that are difficult to reverse.” As examples, the report mentions “inadequately planned developments in the hillsides, the destruction of natural areas and inadequate infrastructure and housing.”

Talking about sustainability, the report furthermore addresses climate change and its potential effect on St. Maarten. “The effects of climate change are becoming more visible and tangible and will ultimately form a threat tour existence and way of life. The rise of the sea level is eroding the beaches and coastlines. That will pose a threat to the island’s ecosystems, economy and our very existence if no action is taken.”

The report emphasized the need to make climate change a priority and that the country needs to prepare for measures to address the effects of climate change. In particular, the report mentions preparation for more frequently recurring natural disasters and the inundation of lower-lying areas. Invasive species in indigenous ecosystems also require attention. “Sustainable development must be the core mission of all our legislation, policies, programs and initiatives.”

The plan furthermore calls for a competent enforcement authority. “Too many forms of undesired development have been tolerated over the years due to a lack of adequate enforcement means, it is the intention to strengthen the control and enforcement capacity of Vromi.”

Climate change will bring more, and more intense hurricanes to the island, Vromi foresees. “Climate change poses a great risk to our island nation; not only can we expect more frequent and more powerful hurricanes and rainfall, but the rise of the sea-level will form a threat to our coastlines and critical low lying areas such as Philipsburg and Simpson Bay.”

The report points out that St. Maarten is situated near “a tectonic fault line where the Atlantic Ocean converges under the Caribbean Plate.” That will result in “frequent earthquakes” and those quakes in turn will “challenge the structural integrity of the built environment.”

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on neighboring islands could cause landslides and tsunamis. Conclusion: “Measures need to be put in place to better prepare the country for the effects of climate change and associated natural phenomena.”

The Ministry Plan also addresses mobility, an issue that has a great impact on the quality of people’s lives. “The structure of the main road network has not changed for centuries,” the report states. “A package of measures is under consideration. It includes: constructing extra road links, improving and increasing the capacity of existing road and reorganizing a secondary road network in residential areas.”

The multi-annual investment plan shows that Vromi intends to build Link 6 – a road that connects the Bethlehem district over the hill with Weymouth and hooks up with the L.B. Scott Road via the (to be upgraded) Mildrum Road – starting next year. The investment in the project is 8 million guilders in 2017 and another 6 million in 2018.

The report speaks of the need for more investments in sewage treatment facilities. According to Vromi, there is an urgent need for a sewage treatment facility west of the Cole Bay Hill. The sewage plant in Cole Bay is on the books for 2017 (8 million guilders, co-financing) and the upgrade of the sewage network in Dutch Quarter for this year and beyond.

The government wants to gradually reduce the country’s dependency on oil and gas import, “by making more effective use of readily available energy sources like solar and wind.” This should lead to “relief for the consumer in terms of energy prices.” The report also foresees a push towards the use of electricity for transportation.

The budget for the Vromi-ministry has remained more or less stable over the past five years. It went from 34.5 million guilders in 2012, after a dip to 33.5 million in 2014 to 34.2 million last year and 34.6 million this year. The biggest chunk of the operational budget (20.8 million) goes to infrastructure maintenance. “There is a great risk that the current budgeted amounts will be insufficient to cover the cost of the works at tender,” the report warns.

The budget for calamities (564,000 guilders) is “a bare minimum,” the report states, adding that it is “just able to cover a small portion of the actual costs. To address this shortfall a disaster fund should be created, preferably on country level.”

Personnel costs take up 30 percent of the budget (10.8 million) but the report notes that the staffing level is currently 74 percent of the formation plan. Just 115 of the 155 formation positions are filled. There are therefore 40 vacancies, but due to financial restraints, the department is only allowed to recruit for the most critical functions.

This year, it looks like Vromi is finally going to make work of the upgrade of Dutch Quarter. The project receives finding from the tenth European Development Fund, but the country has to contribute as well. This year, there is 5 million guilders on the Vromi-budget; in 2017 another 4.2 million.

The report furthermore reveals that the government holds approximately 2,400 long lease contracts for 4.3 million square meters of land, averaging 2,100 guilders per year per contract. This year, Vromi will collect 4.8 million guilders in long lease fees.

Sewage fees and garbage collections fees are in the works, as is a sufferance levy – but these measures still have to take effect. The waste water ordinance went into effect in 2008, but so far, the government has not collected fees for sewage connections yet. “It is time now to start the implementation of the sewage fee to cover the increasing government expenses. An assessment is currently conducted to ascertain the number of properties that are, and soon will be, connected to the system. A plan of action is being prepared to begin the collection of sewage fees.”

The report states that “a nominal fee” for garbage collection is under consideration for households. “Businesses are in principle responsible for the expenses related to their garbage collection, but especially in mixed developed areas there is misuse of the system,” the report states, without explicitly adding that businesses save money by putting their garbage with household waste that is picked up for free. Implementing a garbage fee requires some adjustments to existing legislation.

The sufferance ordinance is under review. The intention is to levy a sufferance fee for bill boards that are placed in public areas. The sign board policy will be reviewed to determine an approach to levying such fees, the report states.

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