~ Thompson calls statement 'propaganda' ~
PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake says he is "very disturbed with the situation regarding the storm water pumps" and has announced that he is set to meet soon with representatives of various governmental ministries and agencies in relation to disaster management.
In response, environmentalist Rueben Thompson called these comments "the same propaganda we hear with every natural disaster."
Lake's statements were relayed via a VROMI press release last night and came in the wake of recent torrential rainfall, Hurricane Gonzalo mid-October and subsequent criticism in regard to flooded areas and lack of maintenance of emergency systems such as floodgates and water pumps.
The planned meeting will take place on the morning of Monday, November 17, and will focus on disaster preparedness, management planning and response.
'Be on the ball'
"I am very disturbed with the situation regarding the storm water pumps," the press release quoted Minister Lake as saying. "Only one out of the three pumps was working at the time, and the working one also had some issues.
"This cannot be allowed to happen again. These pumps need to be in tiptop shape where it concerns regular maintenance/servicing and frequent testing. A new plan needs to be drafted up on how things should go and perhaps placed under the Secretary-General of Ministry VROMI.
"There is a budget to restructure the floodgates and that the project is tentatively set to start end of November. A quotation has also been requested with respect to the Arch Road trench."
He further disclosed that dredging parts of Fresh Water Pond and Great Salt Ponds might be necessary due to topsoil and rocks being washed into both water basins.
"Sint Maarten has lived through many storms, hurricanes and flood events, and therefore, we should be professionals based on all the experience we have gained. We need to be on the ball," he said.
"We need to re-evaluate exactly how things went and how better we can enhance our response, but also being pro-active. As Minister, the responsibility lies with me and now we need to find solutions to the challenges that we were confronted with, and it goes across the board."
Lake thanked MP Leona Marlin-Romeo for suggestions and input with respect to the Arch Road area that were not specified in the press release. He said he had visited affected areas such as Arch Road and Foga and had spoken to many residents after the most recent weather events.
A story was featured in Thursday's issue of The Daily Herald in which a Foga resident complained that the Minister had not visited.
Lake said other flooded areas such as the Cul de Sac basin, Beacon Hill, Belair, the area surrounding SXM Airport, including a stretch in front of the warehouse building, and Mullet Bay also had his attention.
"We have to move forward to address these issues in a constructive manner and I will be seeking the input by all agencies and ministries concerned. Our people are looking forward to action and better planning. We should be leading in disaster preparedness due to all the experience we have, and we need to be prepared at all times."
Thompson has been especially vocal recently, in the wake of the recent weather conditions and subsequent flooding, about his repeated warnings against filling in the island's ponds and thereby reducing their water catchment and retention capacities. He publicly stated recently that his advice, echoed in government-commissioned reports by international experts, had been ignored.
"Based on my experience, this seems to be nothing more than another round of damage control and lip service," Thompson said in response to Lake's latest comments. "The Minister is clearly pretending not to have been at the helm of Public Works in one form or the other for at least the past decade. How much more of this will the electorate stand for? This is the same propaganda we hear with every natural disaster."
Thompson pointed out that Lake had a long working history in VROMI and said the public should not be expected to believe that he is "only now familiarising himself with infrastructural deficiencies." He called for VROMI to "do what needs to be done.
"The floodgates have been broken for years. Why has funding not been allocated? The fact that pumps were out of order is an atrocity," he said. As an environmentalist he said he encouraged "the population at large to take the government and VROMI in particular to court for negligence and dereliction of duty.
"VROMI's failure to maintain the water retention capacity of Great Salt Pond, failure to open the channel at Great Bay in time and the fact that the pumps were out of order have worsened an already dire situation." He said this had led to "damage to homes and properties, affected livelihoods and could have easily led to loss of life."