Rueben Thompson; “Enforcement is the problem”:  Beach policy exists already for more than twenty years

POSTED: 12/3/14 8:14 PM

St. Maarten – The Executive Council of the Island Territory of St. Maarten established already twenty years ago a beach policy. In August 2014, acting Island Secretary Rafael Boasman and Lt. Governor Dennis Richardson signed off on this policy, which basically establishes that beaches have to be freely accessible for the public.

“The Executive Committee of the Island Territory of Sint Maarten hereby makes known that they have established a policy concerning the use of beaches,” the document, that contains a summary, states.

“The beaches must be useable for everyone, both local residents and tourists alike, for recreational purposes. Developments that physically have a negative influence on the recreational use of the beaches will be opposed. The beaches will be protected against natural and human influences that sever their recreational and natural function.”

These lines in the document sum up the main objectives the Executive Council sought to achieve. The policy furthermore defines what is understood by the term beach. “The strip of sand with a width of at most 50 meters, of which the surface consists of natural sea sand situated along the sea, or, in absence of natural sea sand, the strip of land with a width of 25 meters from the high water line, situated along the public waters.”

The island government promises in the policy that it will ensure that the beaches are openly accessible for the general public. “This means that there must be a wide access that is free from physical and mental barriers like levers and hotels.”

The policy furthermore prohibits “construction works or activities that occupy the space on the beach in a way that restricts normal use of the beach for others.”

Even better: “The island government’s position is that construction works on the beach are annoying and disfiguring to the surroundings. It is not desirable for dwellings, hotels, businesses, etc. to be built or situated on the beach.”

Lastly, the government promised in the beach policy that the beaches will be protected against pollution, disturbance, destruction, and against erosion and hurricanes.

In summary, the document states, “The main objective of the policy is the protection of the recreational value of the beaches. The value of the beaches as a part of nature should be protected as much as possible. If necessary, the value of certain beaches as a part of nature can – possibly temporarily – be placed above the recreational value.”

The island went at that time through political turmoil. The country was placed under higher supervision and it changed Lt. Governors at lightning speed. Ralph Richardson stepped down at the end of February 1992, and Russell Voges succeeded him. In 1994, the Kingdom government removed Voges from his position and replaced him with Dennis Richardson. The date is significant to the beach policy: Richardson’s first day in office was September 15, 1994. The beach policy that carries his name as Lt. Governor is marked as being drafted in August 1994.

Environmentalist Rueben Thompson acknowledges that the beach policy is in place. “Enforcement has always been the problem, therefore it should be made into an ordinance,” he said yesterday.

Thompson referred to a motion independent MP Romain Laville tabled in Parliament on April 18, 2013 about beach access. This motion quotes extensively from the above mentioned policy. “It is too often ignored and too easily set aside as merely a policy,” the motion notes. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for the public to gain access to Sint Maarten’s beaches, due to the development of coastal areas. There is an undesirable trend whereby some developers block off access to public beaches and limit parking possibilities.”

The motion resolved to charge the minister of Vromi with the task of “strengthening legislation.” It furthermore charged the Council of Ministers with the task of drafting and implementing a beach Protection Ordinance within 120 days.

“Nothing happened,” Thompson said. “There was always the excuse that these things would be arranged in zoning plans. But those zoning plans are adjusted to the wishes of developers.”

Thompson said that he understood a building permit has been granted for construction at Little Bay Beach. “I would like to see that permit, but no matter what, it needs to meet the rules of the beach policy. They need to provide substantial access to the beaches and parking.”

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Rueben Thompson; “Enforcement is the problem”:  Beach policy exists already for more than twenty years by

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