Vacancy ad Rain Forest park manager takes environmentalists by surprise

POSTED: 11/16/11 4:11 AM

St. Maarten – Rain Forest Adventure St. Maarten N.V. seems to be well on its way to realize an adventure park in the Emilio Wilson estate, much to the dismay of local environmental organizations. Yesterday, the company placed a vacancy ad for a general manager.
“He will be responsible for the overall performance of the park, including financial and human resources,” the ad reads. The general manager is expected to “assist the technical engineer with the construction process of the park “with overall responsibility for the budget.
The company, RF Adventure St. Maarten N.V. is looking for a candidate with a university degree, preferably an engineer, “with minimum 25 years of experience in park operations with a background in ski-lift installation, operation and maintenance.”
St. Maarten Pride vice president Rueben Thompson expressed surprise when this newspaper confronted him with the vacancy ad. Talking to us by phone from Aruba, where he attends .a DCNA board meeting, Thompson said that the paperwork for the Rain Forest attraction park had been at the VROMI ministry since July 18, and that it only became available two weeks ago. “Nothing was made public; nothing was put up for public review. The environmental organizations have not been informed about this, even though we have been legally acknowledged as a stakeholder in the Emilio Wilson Estate’s affairs.”
Thompson is surprised that the company placed the vacancy ad. “It is as if they have assurance that they will get a permit. It could also be a public relations campaign.”
He repeated what he has said often in the past: the Emilio Wilson Estate is a very important area for St. Maarten. “We are against this project,” he said. “The whole plan needs to go through an environmental, cultural and social impact assessment. That needs to be done by an independent organization and then that assessment needs to be reviewed by the environmental organizations.”
Thompson questions “everything that is going on behind closed doors,” and points out that the estate is on the Monument list. “What is the government going to do? Take it off the Monument list? What is their plan? And why has the new board for the Monument Council not been established yet?”
Thompson said that Rain forest claims Blue Flag certification. “What they claim is a copy cat of the eco-label we have for marinas and beaches. It is an eco-label from Costa Rica, called Bandera Azul Ecologica and it has absolutely nothing to do with our internationally recognized Blue Flag program.”
Thompson said that upon his return to St. Maarten he will see whether documents about the plans have been submitted to Pride. ”We will review them but there is no way we will support this plan. We are not saying that nothing at all is possible at the estate. But it is a protected area and it has to be managed locally. Why bring in a foreign company that is greenwashing its activities. I have spoken with environmentalists on other islands where rain forest is established – and they are not happy with them.”
Thompson said that the Estate’s current owner, Henri Brookson, acquired the property in 2008. “He bought a protected property. He cannot do with it as he pleases.”
Pride President Jadira Veen was equally taken aback by the vacancy ad. “As we totally expected, they want a manager with experience in engineering and a background in ski-lift operations. Nowhere is listed that he needs an environmental background.”
Veen said that the planning and building permit has not been placed on review yet. “I am hearing that a preliminary proposal for the development plan will be presented to the public later this month – how, I don’t know.”

Veen added that Minister Theo Heyliger could decide to change the estate’s monument status. “This also requires public consultation; I am wondering if this will be debated in Parliament.”

The Pride President pointed to Minister Rhoda Arrindell role as the one responsible for monuments and culture. “I am curious how she of all people who holds culture and our African ancestors’ heritage in high esteem will be able to “change” the Emilio Wilson Estate monument status or agree with her party leader to make such a profound change.”

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