Thompson concerned about economic and environmental sustainability

POSTED: 10/2/14 11:16 PM

St. Maarten –Rueben Thompson of the United St. Maarten party expressed his concerns for St. Maarten’s future environmental and economic sustainability under the governance of current Minister of Vromi Maurice Lake and the newly-formed UP coalition, which will constitute the new government, saying, “We’re slaughtering the goose that lays the golden egg.”

“I’m very concerned about the plans for the protection of our natural and cultural heritage. If what has been happening in the past three to four years is any indication of what the plans are for the future, then it’s something to be very worried about. With the current minister of environmental affairs, there does not seem to be an understanding that St. Maarten’s natural and cultural resources play a major part in our daily lives and in the island’s tourist-based economy.”

Thompson, along with 8 others in the National Alliance, Democratic Party and United St. Maarten party coalition (3 from each political party) created the governing program, released this past Sunday, with “Sustainable development: economic growth and environmental protection” as 1 of its 5 strategic objectives. The program is now moot, because the coalition fell apart after the departure of DP-Minister Cornelius de Weever, but its contents remain interesting. With tourism as its main industry, St. Maarten’s economy – described as a sun, sea and sand economy – is reliant on the tourists who come to the island for its natural beauty.

“Properly managed tourism can indeed protect the environment,” stated Thompson. He urges the government (both present and future) to look at other countries in the Western World and the greater Caribbean area that prioritize environmental protection by establishing national parks. These national parks protect biodiversity and natural and cultural heritage for both current and future generations. They can contribute to the protection of the environment through admission fees, which, in turn, are used to better manage the areas, fund research, create staff positions and can be used to purchase more protected areas.

“From my perspective as an environmentalist, what we’ve had in St. Maarten is a build-it-and-we-will-come mentality. We believe that every piece of concrete poured is progress. In overdeveloping, in building hotels in ecologically sensitive areas, excavating our hillsides, we are undermining the long-term success of this economy we depend on. If we keep developing in the manner we are developing, tourists won’t come here.”

Thompson highlighted the filling in of the Simpson Bay lagoon, which happened under Minister Lake’s watch, and the plans for the destruction of the last mangrove stand in the lagoon. He also pointed out the plan of the UP lead coalition to make a mass tourism amusement park of the Emilio Wilson Estate, rather than establish it as a properly-managed protected area, which was an initiative documented in the governing program. “With the proposed collation in power, it would be an extension of the systematic destructive of St. Maarten’s natural and cultural heritage, as we have seen over the past 40 years.”

The governing program focused on, among other things, managing St. Maarten’s natural resources in a proper manner with sewage and solid waste management infrastructure, thereby addressing the landfill issues. “My position on waste-to-energy has always been, if we do get it, they should meet the highest environmental standards possible, when it comes to emissions and effluence.” A reuse-and-recycle mentality should not only form a key component of any waste management plant, but should also be the mentality of the people said Thompson.

Thompson’s main concerns about the Energy-Buy-Back initiative are cost and transparency: “It’s a great initiative, but I’ve been looking at the pricing of the kilowatt-hours and we need to be transparent in how the prices are set.” He supports initiatives for all forms of renewable energy and stresses that there should be more of a government commit, as “St. Maarten is lagging behind in efforts to green its energy production.”
Furthermore, he encourages the newly-formed UP coalition to use the now defunct governing program, as it was put together with the interest of all St. Maarten’s people. “When it comes to sustainable development, I would very-much-so hope that they use it.”

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