PHILIPSBURG: ---- It’s been five years since Hurricane Irma and Maria impacted St. Maarten/ St. Martin in September 2017, Irma was the largest hurricane that struck the island after Luis in 1995. However, five years later and the destruction caused by Irma is still visible. Many people are still unable to repair their homes, some people are still lodging with friends and families since they lost everything in the monster storm. Life has not been the same since the passing of Irma and Maria while the pandemic kicked off in March 2020 has added more fire to the fury. One would think that the governments on both sides for the past five years would understand the predicament of its people, but their actions and priorities have proven to be otherwise.
Visitors coming to St. Maarten or leaving the island can still feel discomfort since the Princess Juliana International Airport Terminal is still not fully operational. The inconvenience at PJIAE can still be felt as though it's months after the destruction, yet five years went by and there is almost no visible progress. Passengers have to wait in long lines to retrieve their baggage while the airlines are working in discomfort not to mention the staff of PJIAE. What is clear though politics are being played with the lives of the people, at one of the country's main ports of entry and the pillar of the economy.
Almost every politician refers to the youths as the future of the country, but none thus far made schools and education a priority. Schools on St. Maarten serve as shelters, yet these schools are not fully repaired and the NRPB is moving at a snail's pace.
Schools such as the Charles Leopold Bell in Cole Bay, and Marie Laurence School in Middle Region are visible eyesores and various government subsidized schools such as the St. Maarten Academy both Academic and PSVE including the library in Philipsburg are yet to be repaired. Again, it must be stressed that the Youths are the Priority of Politicians during election campaigns.
The Government of St. Maarten accepted all sorts of conditions in order for the Dutch to release the 550M to the World Bank to assist St. Maarten in its recovery, yet with debts over the country’s head and it remains a ghost town.
What should not be missed is that William Marlin and his government bore the brunt after IRMA because some politicians that had no problem selling the country out toppled his government and while they were at the helm for three years almost nothing was done to better the country and its people.
Most of that money went to the World Bank for their services while major infrastructures on the island remained in dilapidated conditions. The library that students need for their studying and research has been destroyed and is yet to be rebuilt or repaired. As a matter of fact, the library was not even covered by the insurance policies in place back then.
In the center of Philipsburg, one would see the biggest eyesores of all which is the old government administration building, while only recently the Post Office building was fully demolished.
One would want to believe that the governments and its agencies are not doing enough to get the ball rolling on the repairs and or reconstruction of these buildings but the administration process with the World Bank can be exhausting and lengthy if not impossible.
Across the border on the French side, the situation is much the same or worst since the French Government did make money available for various projects but the government from 2017 to March 2022 did not complete the administration process accurately in order to touch the funding for these projects. Because of the inaccurate administration, most of the funding was taken back by the State and the projects on St. Martin remained at a standstill.
Team Gibbs Government did proceed with the demolition of many structures but reconstructing them was not done. Families in many areas are still hoping that they would one day get the much-needed assistance to repair their homes even though it's five years later.
In the center of Marigot, there is bare confusion a place that was so attractive for visitors and residents from both sides. The Marketplace remains in a dilapidated state while vendors had to be moved into containers to ply their trade.
It is understood that the bidding process for the demolition of the marketplace will soon take place but there is still no talk as to when the marketplace will be reconstructed.
The ferry station project that started years ago was halted and a lawsuit was filed by the Collectivity because the contractor used inferior materials and did not live up to the building permit and its plans.
SMN News learned that the aluminum and glass used on the project does not meet the specifications and the contractor was paid in full, thus the COM filed a lawsuit against the contractor and now has to conduct a new bidding process to replace the aluminum and glass that was used to more sustainable materials that could handle hurricane force winds.
Apart from the administrative processes that can be difficult the projects that have been awarded and are paid for by the State take forever to complete and this leaves the people of St. Martin in a vulnerable situation. One of those projects is the installation of fiber optic cabling throughout the French part of the island. This project was awarded to a private company that received two extensions from the State, yet the project is far from complete.
Residents of the French Quarter and Sandy Ground areas are the ones most affected. The fiber optic installation for the internet is still not complete in these two districts. Several areas occupied by locals are not completed and there is never feedback from anyone on this particular project.
Students attending schools are suffering because most of their work is sent via the internet and since they do not have the internet at home it makes studying harder. Even though the schools are aware that many homes still do not have internet access, they still proceed to use the internet as the main means of communication.
Businesses in these areas are closing down because they too have been heavily affected and there seems to be no solution any time soon. When asked about the expected time this project will be completed there is never a straight answer even from the elected or even the providers. The providers blame the Collectivity for not completing the underground works while the COM blames the private company that was contracted. No one seems to know and the way it appeared is like no one seems to care because they are not directly affected.
When it comes to streetlights most of these areas are still in darkness, streetlights were replaced over a year after Irma struck but many of them still not working, and worst of all no lights were installed in the side streets that are owned by the government. Because of the lack of proper lighting crime has increased. Upon inquiring about the installation of streetlights SMN News was told that the project had to be completed by April 2021, but no real progress is made on the finalization.
Another eyesore throughout St. Maarten and St. Martin is the number of old vehicles on the sides of roads and private properties. Almost everyone has become a mechanic post-Irma and also owns a junkyard. This, of course, increased after the passage of IRMA and clearly, no government not the old or the new can rectify this problem because the old carcasses are on private property, at least that is what they have said.
The population is full of hope because as of April 2022 a new set of people took office, they are people with experience and age, hopefully, they are able to quickly push the pending projects forward and able to recreate the beauty of St. Martin once more.