Protect our Beaches

Dear Editor,

For years now Sint Maarten’s residents and many visitor have been voicing their concerns about the lack of access to, parking areas at and space for simple recreation and relaxation on our beaches. This in itself is an unbelievable situation on an island which is widely advertised internationally as having some thirty-seven pristine beaches.

Over the past ten years my colleagues and I have repeatedly witnessed successive Commissioners and now (Prime) Ministers turn a blind eye and allow or worse yet assist developers in building directly on our beaches and restricting public access to and usage of what is actually public property. Time and again we advised against these activities, we met with decision makers, wrote objection letters, compiled petitions, collected signatures, held protest gatherings and each time, the needless to say wealthy, developers somehow managed to convince our decision makers not to heed the calls of the people.

If we wish to improve our overall Quality of Life and if we wish to maintain our tourism based economy, the destruction of and limitation of access to our heritage must come to an immediate end. As Sint Maarten’s residents we can no longer expect others to fight our battles for us or just allow politicians to do as they please and continue to make decisions which only benefit them and the developers they appease. If we do not take a stand now, within short there will be nothing left on Sint Maarten for any of us.

Please allow me to remind your readership, including our Ministers, Members of Parliament, the Ministry of VROMI but more importantly the general public of the following:
According to Book 5 Article 26 of the Civil Code (Het Burgerlijk Wetboek), beaches are the property of the Country (Government). The Civil Code goes on to state that limitation of the public character of beaches can only be made by extraordinary permission/ exception granted by National Ordinance. (This leaves me to wonder if any of those developers, business owners and hoteliers claiming to own our beaches can produce a National Ordinance in support of their claims.)
St. Maarten’s Beach Policy defines beaches as:
“the strip of sand with a width of at most 50 meters, of which the surface consists of natural seas-and situated along the sea, or, in absence of natural seas-and, the strip of land with a width of 25 meters from the high-waterline, situated along the public waters”;
St. Maarten’s Beach Policy states that:
“The beaches must be useable for everyone, both local residents and tourists alike, for recreative purposes”;
· “Developments that, physically, have a negative influence on the recreative use of the beaches, will be opposed”;
· “The beaches will be protected against the natural and human influences, that sever their recreational and nature function”;
· “The consequences of this (beach) policy are that the Island Government will strive to ensure that:
§ The beaches are openly accessible for the general public, which means that there must be a wide access that is free from physical and mental barriers (levers, hotels etc.)”
§ “No construction works or activities, that occupy the space on the beach in a way that restricts normal use of the beach for others, will occur on the beach;
§ The standpoint of the island Government 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”

Permit me to furthermore remind, particularly the Council of Ministers and the Members of Parliament of the following:
On April 17th, 2013 Parliament passed a motion resolving the following:
“To charge the Minister of VROMI with the task of strengthening legislation towards maintaining the recreational and ecological value of St. Maarten’s beaches including improved control, enforcement and penalization.”
“To Charge the Council of Ministers with the task of drafting and implementing a Beach Protection Ordinance within one hundred and twenty (120) days of the passing of this motion. This Beach Protection Ordinance should include the principals and regulations outlined in the Beach Policy and set additional regulations aimed at protecting the recreational, ecological and natural values of St. Maarten’s beaches and securing unrestricted and unobstructed public access and ample parking spaces.”
Close to two years have come and gone since the aforementioned motion was passed. It is high time for our Members of Parliament to demand action from the relevant Ministers or better yet, see to the drafting of the relevant legislation themselves.
In closing, Ministers, Members of Parliament in case you have not yet noticed allow me to inform you that Sint Maarten’s residents are becoming increasingly frustrated by the embarrassingly low level of your (Budget) Debates, by the increasingly high cost of living, the deplorable state of the island’s infrastructure, the sewage on our roads, the ever present garbage challenges, the traffic jams and the fact that the island has become an unsightly mess, just to name a few examples.
The situation we face on Sint Maarten reminds me of a Caribbean saying, made famous by Bob Marley: “if every day the bucket a-go a well, one day the bottom a-go drop out” which is synonymous in meaning to the Dutch “de druppel die de emmer doet overlopen”. Perhaps the Members of Parliament and the relevant Ministers would do well to be mindful of the fact that many of Sint Maarten’s residents have had enough of the status quo. The ongoing restriction of access to many of our beaches might very well be the drop which causes the bucket to overflow.
Rueben J. Thompson. Environmentalist.