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The Ring Road: A New Hope?

kevin_1~ Kevin Dekkers offers options ~

 

By Lisa Davis-Burnett

 

In July of 2009, WEEKender featured an article entitled “Hopes and Fears in Conflict” about the then proposed Ring Road Project. The hope was that the Philipsburg traffic would be alleviated while preserving the natural environment and cultural heritage of the Great Salt Pond. The fear was that the island would be losing its traditional closeness to the pond where the ancestors toiled long days gathering salt. In addition, there was fear of habitat loss for birds and other wildlife, and fear of losing the needed rainwater storage capacity. We were told then that the Ring Road would serve as a 50-km-per-hour expressway that would “ring” the pond, linked to the current roads via nine roundabouts. It was claimed that the Ring Road would serve as a barrier beyond which no building or business could be located. This would protect the pond, ROB’s Department of New Projects sector head Kurt Ruan had explained; by finally putting an end to the illegal dumping that has allowed more land to accumulate behind buildings that are next to the pond.

 

In the five and a half years since that article went to print, the hope has been put on hold and the fears have been holding court. Once the sand was dredged from the harbour’s depths, trucked into place and dumped, very little movement has been seen. Many wonder if the project has been abandoned and forgotten. According to Mike Granger, Press Secretary for the Council of Ministers, the Ring Road Project is status quo for the time being. The reason for the uncertainty and delay is all too expected: Funding issues. “For 2015 at least, this project has not been earmarked other than for some design changes,” Granger offered in an invited comment.

 

Where some see a negative, others see a positive, or at least a potential for a positive. It may be a case of a pond half-empty or a pond half-full…but regardless, one resident has a clear vision of what the wide expanse of sand could become, and it’s not a parking lot.

 

Kevin Dekkers is a 34-year-old physical education teacher and professional soccer coach. He spends virtually all his time working with the youth of the island and enjoying the outdoors. “By this time, I have worked in pretty much all the public schools on the island; but right now I am at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School. I love the island, I love knowing so many people, after having been a teacher for so long. I feel safe and it’s a relaxed atmosphere. I love the sun; I love the beaches and the nature, but all that stuff is being destroyed and that breaks my heart.” Dekkers wants people to see what he sees: a natural space that could be a great compliment to the people of the Philipsburg area.

 

“One of the main problems here is finding places for children to play,” Dekker said. “Most playgrounds are completely rundown and unsafe at night. So this area would need to be well lit so that kids can come here and ride their bikes until 10:00 at night. They have the boardwalk, but that’s not enough really.”

 

Considering the original Ring Road’s expressway plans, Dekker said, “That could still happen; it’s wide enough that you could have all that and still have a bike path and a jogging path. I was in Toronto this summer and they have the lake there and all around the lake is park, miles and miles of park and recreational areas. There is no reason why St. Maarten couldn’t have something like that, or at least more bike paths, I mean there are so many Dutch people here [who are used to biking for transportation – ed.] and it would cut down on traffic. I think it would be a great benefit to the community to have another green space that is inspirational and safe. You know you could have jungle gyms for children, climbing frames, or just a place to rest your feet.”

 

Dekker and I drove out to the “Ring Road.” We walked around the edge of the pond just across from Carl and Sons Bakery on W.A. Nisbeth Rd (aka “the Pondfill”). “Look at how much space there is here,” he said emphatically. “There should be stuff going on!” As I looked around, I noticed how much the natural vegetation has taken root in patches and the greenery was dotted with a smattering of flowers. There were birds and butterflies all around and it was very beautiful. “I know the water’s not very clean,” commented Dekker, “but you could still have something going on by the water, and you could bring your kids to feed the ducks.”

 

Sound like a far-fetched dream? There has been quite some support for this vision. Dekker posted some of his ideas for ways to beautify the Ring Road and contribute to community life on his facebook page. People added on more ideas with his encouragement. Here is the list:

 

Ideas for the project

Spread the word and get everybody that might be interested involved. This brain-child is just in its infancy. It’s is a community idea, all suggestions are welcome; please add your ideas to the list and maybe we can get started on building it. Let’s do something for the people by the people. Let’s create a St. Maarten we can all enjoy.

 

-Bicycle trail

-Running path with cross-training stops (pull up bars, etc.)

-Walking/recreational boardwalk

-Skating park

-Playgrounds for kids

-Green areas with mangroves and indigenous trees and plants for shade and eco-tourism

-Trails with signs naming flora and fauna

-Historical trail with information on everything from the Arawaks to the present day

-Heritage information about the Great Salt Pond explaining its significance to Soualiga

-Fishing locations

-Picnic and shade areas

-Rest stops

-Public garden

-Outside concrete amphitheatre for evening concerts, performances, etc…

-Artists area where we display local art and support our local talent

-Recreational areas such as basketball courts, tennis, volleyball area, martial arts and dance spaces

-Batting cages (cricket, baseball)

-Tourist info centre

-Local authentic small food and drink vendors

-Lights for evening activities

-Public restroom (clean)

-Security in place to safeguard community

 

Dekker is determined to press his point, which, as he sees it, is a quality of life issue: “I have felt like this for years, ever since they first put in the sand. I just don’t want this to be another Illidge Road, where you can’t see the water and it’s just not attractive environmentally. No green anywhere, just horrible, dirty, unkempt buildings all stuck together on the edge of the pond. And no one can see the beauty that was once the pond.”

 

To get involved and support Kevin Dekker’s vision, contact him via Facebook messaging.

 

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