The protest march makes its way through Marigot on the way to the Préfecture on Thursday morning. (Robert Luckock photo)
MARIGOT--Just five months after the ending of the long-running Caisse Territorial des Oeuvres Scolaires (CTOS) strike, French St. Martiners were back on the streets of Marigot Thursday morning to demand a withdrawal of the State’s controversial revision of the Natural Risks Prevention Plan PPRN, widely condemned by the population and the Collectivité as being too restrictive and potentially damaging economically, socially and culturally, by its implementation.
The protest, instigated by the Collective Soualiga United, coincided with the last day of the public enquiry into the PPRN. By the time the protest march got underway around 8:30am, some 350 to 400 persons had gathered, many carrying placards reading “NO to the PPRN and NO to contaminated water.”
Pastor Eugene Hodge gave a blessing before the march got underway. Technical problems with a sound system meant any planned speeches were put on hold.
Several elected officials from the Territorial Council were there to support the march, including First Vice-President Valérie Damaseau. Some persons questioned why President Daniel Gibbs was not present, but march leader Lenny Mussington told the crowd, to applause, “It doesn’t matter where the President stands on these issues, it matters where the people stand on these issues.”
Along the route through Marigot there were chants of “A people united can never be defeated,” “No PPRN, No contaminated water” and “Our land matters”. There was a pause at Hotel de la Collectivité before the march continued to the Préfecture for a scheduled meeting with Préfète Déléguée Sylvie Feucher at 10:00am. Reducing the water bills was among other demands.
At Grand Case, Gendarmes diverted traffic via the Dutch side after the Agrément roundabout was blocked by protestors.
Drawing the ire of the population in addition to the PPRN is the situation with the public drinking water supply, where a ban on its consumption from the taps is still in place due to the presence of bromates in the network. Water producer SAUR has vowed to have the problem fixed by December, pending an all-clear given by the regional health authority ARS.
In the meantime, it provided a distribution point for “bromate-free” drinking water in Galisbay. However, most people have more confidence in bottled water from the supermarket. The last two days have seen the installation of a special machine at the Morne Valois reservoir to pump disinfectant into the pipe network to reduce bromates to safe levels.
Despite the drinking ban, people are angered by receiving higher water bills due to an added tax to cover drainage work. SAUR has refused to lower water bills, arguing that could jeopardise the functioning of the Delegation Service Publique (DSP), prompting petitions to emerge demanding compensation for consumers.
Four independent drinking water producers have been closed down by the Préfecture for reportedly “not being in conformity with the law.”
The additional objective of the march was for participants to sign the book in the Préfecture saying “no” to the PPRN. This was granted and marchers were allowed to enter in groups of 10 at a time. However, the media were not allowed in.
Former President of the Collectivité Alain Richardson, who was in the march, accused the State and ARS of not being transparent with the population over the water crisis, when health is at stake.
“It is extremely important that the population knows from when the first controls and analysis of the water was done, if it was a year ago or 10 years ago, and what were the results,” said Richardson. “We need to have the full record of the controls done over the years so we can understand how and when bromates occurred and what their effect is likely to be. It is said there is a 10-year delay before symptoms appear, but we are all different: some of us – the elderly, children – could be more susceptible earlier.
“The contract we signed for with SAUR was for potable water. What it is serving is not in agreement with the contract, yet the price we are paying is for potable water. That’s a scandal in itself.”
On the PPRN Richardson described the State’s approach to it as dropping a “nuclear bomb”.
“There has been manipulation of the data on water levels in order to justify having nearly all of the coastline totally prohibited, either to live or to build,” he suggested. “This affects businesses as well as residents. The conditions imposed impact the economy and the way of life of the people.
“It is also shameful that at no given moment have measures to mitigate the risks been taken into consideration by offering technical solutions. The State has made it clear it is not discussing any solutions that will cost money. And that’s a scandal.
“This PPRN and measures it has implemented are totally contradictory to what our livelihood and economy are all about. Owning land and passing it on to your children is in the DNA of every St. Martiner. That’s why this PPRN version has to be blocked.
“Now because of climate change you have insurance companies not wanting to take the risk, either refusing to insure a property or proposing exorbitant premiums. With severe natural catastrophes likely to occur more frequently, it is up to France now to create an international fund to help these island territories that are innocent bystanders paying the price for other countries that are polluting the planet. At least that would be a shared responsibility on cost.”
A statement issued by the Préfecture later said: “Concerning the PPRN, the leader of the undeclared demonstration was received by the President of the Enquiry Commission and participants who so wished were received by the members of the commission. Registers were available to all.
“The Préfète was unable to receive a delegation as she is not authorised to interfere in the context of an ongoing commission of enquiry. Regarding water and its current cost, it is up to the Collectivité and Établissement de L’Eaux et de L’Assainissement de St. Martin (EEASM) to respond to this question. The Préfecture has taken in charge the health aspect, which it has been actively monitoring since the beginning of the crisis.”