I left the town hall meeting about the erosion and road projects which was held on Wednesday, September 4, with mixed feelings. It is without a doubt that the impressive way the strengthening of the cliff under Fort Oranje is being dealt with has received admiration by many of us. The acrobatic work that the workers of a French company with the suitable name of Acrobat X are performing, last weekend even supported by a helicopter, is quite astonishing.
Calling the progress of the roads, in particular the Cherry Tree road project, disappointing seems an understatement. I guess that the call for information to the public to explain as to why the roads in this area have still not been surfaced was actually the main reason why this first town hall meeting in 2019 has been called by the Kingdom Commissioner. The project was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of June. A new completion date in the meantime has been set for March 2020. The reason given for this delay in the newspaper was that materials were not available.
In the town hall meeting it was made known that there was a disagreement between Dutch contractor Koop and the supervisor, consultancy firm Royal Haskoning, about the grade of the cement to be used for the top layer of the roads. On the question why it took about eight months to come to a solution for this issue Mr. Franco explained that it took time to convince the one who pays the bills (which is BZK) of the need for a change. He did not want to reiterate further as that would be crying over spilled milk. This spilled milk, however, is the reason that more than one year and a half after the intervention by The Hague, and the local government has been put aside, there are still no roads built on Statia.
After some inquiries I learned that the supervisor requires UK certified cement as well as other building materials such as steel bars. One can imagine that this grade might be standard in Europe but not easily available in this part of the world. Haskoning, however, insisted as this UK quality was needed to build maintenance-free roads. Their representative was not able to convince the audience in the town hall meeting that such roads really exist.
The need for maintenance-free roads was necessary to make it possible that Statia’s yearly budget of one million dollars for road maintenance can be used for construction of new roads instead, clarified Mr. Franco. According to the director of Infrastructure, Mr. Reid, it is government’s intention that eventually all roads on Statia will be dealt with.
The same company, Royal Haskoning, in a report a few years ago, calculated that for this approximately 50 million dollars is required. Knowing that after the Cherry Tree project and the construction of the Jeems Road the available budget of 5.6 million dollars is about depleted I guess everyone can do the math and figure out how long this process will take if no additional budget becomes available.
During the town hall meeting and also at the end questions were raised by the audience about the choice of drainage system used for the Cherry Tree road project. The only argument brought in for this was that the supervisor, being Haskoning, decided that this is the best solution. Seeing our experience in the past with, among others, the poor job delivered by Dutch construction company MNO with the construction of our public water distribution network, supervised by a German consultancy firm, and the poorly constructed police station, the lesson learned should be not to accept advice of these companies at face value. Therefore also the suggestion by someone in the audience to make more use of local expertise should not be ignored.