MARIGOT--Independent Councillor Jules Charville said Thursday, disclosure that the main impact studies for the current version of the Bay of Marigot Project will be passed onto the investor throws it into a different light, not least in terms of cost, and is contrary to the belief these studies would have been done before the investor came on board.
As it stands following last Thursday's Territorial Council vote, where the project was presented by Philippe Ricochin from Cabinet Tropisme, the estimated 300-million-euro project now moves from the diagnostic/ preparation phase to a bidding phase. Launch of the bid is to last for one year with an expectation the new investor takes on the project in 2016.
The investor will then have a year and a half to do studies, review designs, gather financing etc. before construction starts in 2018, and that is in the best scenario if there are no complications and delays. It was understood in the deliberation that the investor would have the right to change or modify the project.
"It was always my understanding that the company hired by the Collectivité would hire specialists to carry out the studies on the currents, waves, erosion, impact of dredging on the beaches, impact of hurricanes etc.," said Charville. "That was what most of us understood; surprisingly we hear now that this will be left to the investor."
There was particular concern from residents in Sandy Ground about how dredging and variation of currents will affect the beaches of the district. According to Charville this concern was not properly addressed to give reassurance.
He pointed out that studies that have previously been done are only valid for five years by France and thereafter null and void and will have to be done again.
"Not knowing what the investor is going to do, what concept they will come with, led them to re-think those studies," Charville suggested. "It concerns me that a lot of time and money has been wasted on this. The other side of it is, if the Collectivité is not telling the investor the vision we want for the country, then it becomes the investor's project and not the Collectivité's.
"Secondly, how objective will those studies be if the investor is doing them? It would have to be independent companies, but these details were not mentioned in the deliberation. Most likely the project will be modified, especially if the investor is a major cruise line corporation. Then we don't know if local companies will be involved in construction and if jobs will be created."
Charville and the Opposition were not alone in voicing their concerns, which led them to vote against or abstain. The 23-member Economic, Social and Cultural advisory council CESC, the fourth most important institution of the Collectivité that represents all cross sections of the population, gave a negative advice on the project, citing no mention about impact studies on the environment, creation of employment or preserving heritage. It advised "vigilance" and "questioned the real feasibility of the project."
The Collectivité has retained the option of dredging a channel to 10.5 metres instead of 6.5, albeit at extra cost, to allow for the possibility of larger ships. It was noted that due to demand ships catering to high-end clientele are now being built larger.
Charville questioned why the project could not have been simpler, for example constructing a cruise ship pier only and possibly using the deep water channels that are already in the bay.
Currently, the project calls for a cruise ship pier, a new breakwater, berthing for 94 mega yachts, creation of 21 hectares of landfill to accommodate a five-star hotel, convention centre, high-end apartments for sale and rent, and a new ferry terminal.
With regard to the revitalisation of Marigot, this project has moved from the diagnostic phase realised from November 2014 to March 2015, to the "execution" phase.
Studies focused on the refurbishing of the old historic buildings in Marigot, many of which are closed and in a dilapidated state. Urban architect Jean-Bernard Lamasse from Tropisme presented the conclusions of the study on Thursday.
It was noted that some owners, who have had restoration projects for some time, do not have the money to do up their own properties because of the difficulties in getting loans for local people in the French banking system.
Responding to this question, President Aline Hanson, however, assured that those owners will get financing in the future.
Other aspects of this project include turning some streets into pedestrian-only streets, enhancing side streets, limiting automobile traffic to Rue Général de Gaulle, re-arranging car parking, moving rental car operations out of the centre and to the unused Galis Bay car park.
Although it was understood Semsamar would be financing the Marigot revitalisation project, the lines became blurred when aspects of the project merged with the Bay of Marigot project, and thus who would be financing what.
Charville abstained from voting on the diagnostic phase since he said he and other owners of buildings had not been consulted to give input before it was presented at the Territorial Council meeting.
There is discontent over the Plan Local Urbanisme (PLU), which proposes to take 60 per cent more land for agriculture and only 40 per cent for economic development.
The public has one more chance to give its opinion on the PLU during the public enquiry.