Simpson Bay Development Plan bad for our environment

Dear Editor,
The Citizens for Positive Change Party (CPC), a newly formed political party contesting the 2014 Parliamentary Elections, is of the firm opinion that the draft Simpson Bay Development Plan does not meet the internationally accepted criteria for Sustainable Development from an Economic perspective, Social perspective or from an Environmental perspective.
CPC will summarize why the draft Simpson Bay Development Plan does not meet said criteria in a series of three articles. Our first article, published earlier this week, focused on why the draft Simpson Bay Development Plan does not make sense from an Economic perspective, this second article will focus on the Environmental aspects.
CPC has carefully reviewed the Draft Simpson Bay Development plan and concludes that the draft plan does not sufficiently facilitate the proper management of the Simpson Bay Lagoon’s natural features and functions. The plan also gives rise to serious concerns regarding the future of the Simpson Bay area, the beach and the historic village of Simpson Bay.

The Simpson Bay Lagoon has historically served as a nursery for many, often commercially significant, species of marine life. A number of reef and even some deep-sea fish species are dependent on the mangroves in the Simpson Bay Lagoon for much of their early growth. Over the past four decades much of the Lagoon’s shoreline has been cleared of mangroves, hundreds of square meters of sea grass beds have been dredged out or covered with sand and soil to facilitate land reclamation projects.

Credible estimates state that if the present pace of filling-in were allowed to continue the Dutch side of the Simpson Bay Lagoon will have lost upwards of 50% of its original surface area by the ending of 2016.

Despite the development pressures the Lagoon has been faced with, pockets of mangrove stands can still be found along portions of its shores, sea grass beds are also still present and both play a significant role within the Lagoon ecosystem. In its current format the Draft Simpson Bay Development plan does not provide for sufficient protection of these important ecosystems, nor does the plan take into account the recreational function of the Bay and Lagoon for residents and visitors.

Regional and local studies have concluded that mangrove stands in the Caribbean contribute the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars per square kilometers per year in ecosystem services such as sustaining fisheries, providing shoreline protection, supplying sources of food, medicine and scientific research to island communities.

Rather than facilitating the protection and much needed restoration of the very few remaining mangroves and sea grass beds, the Draft Simpson Bay Development plan offers proposals for having these areas designated for commercial (marinas) or infrastructure (expansion of road network) related usage.

The plan refers to “the desired development of the Boardwalk along the Lagoon, and the new pier near the Lejuez drawbridge”. Having attended the zoning plan meetings in Simpson Bay, CPC is left to wonder who exactly “desires” the proposed boardwalk and new cruise pier, as the Simpson Bay Community Council has made it very clear that they are not in favor of these developments.

The proposal to facilitate or allow for the construction of a cruise or mega-yacht pier opens up the door to a wide range of environmental concerns. Without going into too much detail, some of the main concerns are as follows;

Associated dredging activities during construction, not to mention regular maintenance dredging will have serious consequences for water-circulation (current speed and direction), natural sand movement, beach replenishment and the breaking of waves, this will likely alter the shape and size of the beach and increase flooding of particularly the homes and alleys bordering to the beach during heavy swells. Dredging will undoubtedly lead to the removal of sea grass beds and other marine life.

A cruise or mega-yacht pier at the proposed location would very likely also affect the tranquil residential character of in particular the old Simpson Bay Road and other parts of the Simpson Bay village.

CPC believes that in order to ensure the long-term viability of Sint Maarten’s economy, we must implement and enforce ways to encourage and stimulate economic growth while protecting the natural environment, improving the overall quality of life of residents and enhancing the on island experience of Sint Maarten’s many visitors.

Based on the aforementioned, CPC will not support any additional destruction of fragile Simpson Bay and Simpson Bay Lagoon ecosystems whether through land-reclamation, dredging or other activities.

It must be clearly noted that the Draft Simpson Bay Development plan does not reflect the wishes of the majority of the citizens who attended and participated in the Simpson Bay Zoning plan meetings held in March and September of 2012 as well as the Public Hearing held in Simpson Bay in February 2014. The CPC therefore urges all concerned citizens to make use of the opportunity to review and if deemed necessary file official objections to the Draft Simpson Bay Development plan at the relevant Government departments on or before June 3rd, 2014.
In a couple of months you will be presented with a choice on how you want to move forward. CPC urges you to use it wisely.