Simpson Bay Lagoon becomes 150,000 m2 m smaller : Pride wants to see permit for airport expansion plan

POSTED: 12/23/13 1:59 PM

filling lagoonSt. Maarten – “There is a permit and we followed all the rules,’ Vromi-minister Maurice Lake told the Today Newspaper when asked about the filling in of the Simpson Bay Lagoon between Bobby’s Marina and the bridge across the lagoon, but St. Maarten Pride Foundation vice president Rueben Thompson is not so sure. “I will file a request under the law on public administration on Monday for a copy of the permit,” he said. The Pride Foundation also severely criticized Lake in a letter to the editor (See our opinion: Unprofessional and unbecoming).

The first reports about the filling in of the lagoon trickled in on Friday from concerned citizens who wondered why trucks were sneaking in through the night to dump their loads in the lagoon. Minister Lake immediately answered to media questions about the situation, saying that he had issued a permit for the work. Marieke van Zadelhof from the Vromi-ministry told Today Newspaper that the work concerns phase 1A of the airport expansion and that the reclaimed land will be used for a second taxiing strip; this will enable the airport to accommodate more airplanes.

Airport director Regina Labega confirmed this on Friday to this newspaper.

From a draft report by Lievense Engineering it appears that 150,000 square meters of the lagoon will be filled in for the project and that this requires 800,000 cubic meters of sand. “The land reclamation is designed to provide the required space for the runway and allows for the construction of the taxiway as well as the expansion of the existing terminal to conform to changes in international air traffic regulations,” the Lievense report states.

The report furthermore makes worrisome statements about the condition of the Simpson Bay Lagoon, saying that it shows “noticeable effects of human pressures, particularly in the Dutch part, due to dredging and reclamation, replacement of mangroves by hard shores, and significant water pollution from the townships along its border (Simpson Bay and Cole Bay in particular) and ships. Its ecological system is changing and may become instable in the near future.”

The Lievense report states drily that most developments “have largely progressed unplanned and uncontrolled during the last 20 years in which the lagoon has been reduced considerably.”

The removal of mangrove stands around the lagoon and dredging activities have altered the sediment balance of the lagoon, the report states. Sediments that otherwise would have been trapped in the mangrove stands now enter the lagoon unhindered. “Sedimentation has increased accordingly, with negative effects on the lagoon’s marine life and shipping routes,” according to the report.

Pollution stemming from residential areas, boat maintenance and fuel spill puts pressure on the marine life in the lagoon. The pollution is concentrated in the lagoon’s southeast part.

There is yet another human factor: “The lagoon has seen immense overfishing. Most of the commercially harvested species like spiny lobster, conch and fish longer than 30 centimeters are currently ecologically extinct,” the report states.

The airport has commissioned an environmental impact study for the project. This has been done with the input from the Nature Foundation, a government-owned organization.

The St. Maarten Pride Foundation now wonders what has been done with that study and how recommendations from it will be applied to the work. Vice President Rueben Thompson is not convinced that everything is clear and above board. “I have to see that permit first to be certain. Sometimes those permits are made after the fact, so on Monday (today – ed.) I will file a request for a copy of that permit.”

The permit for the airport expansion could still become an issue, depending on the date it was granted. A ministerial regulation dated August 21 concerning a preparatory decision about zoning in the Simpson Bay area, stipulated under article 4 a ban on work “if this causes direct or indirect damages to the architectural, natural, ecological, landscaping or cultural-historical value of the area, with the exception of standards maintenance work.”

The preparatory decision remains in effect for a period of 1.5 years; the minister is authorized to deviate from the ban by issuing a permit and Thompson wants to ascertain that such a permit has been granted.

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