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Water supply disrupted by damage to Air-Fin pump

PHILIPSBURG--Water supply to several districts was disrupted on Wednesday as a result of a damaged intake pump at Air-Fin's water production facility in Cay Bay.
Residents in several districts woke up to dry taps, which lasted for the major part of the day. One resident in St. Peters reported that her water had gone from as early as 2:00am.
Several schools were also without water or had to make do with only a trickle from their taps.
Air-Fin Operations Manager Eric Borgdeorff was hopeful that the problem would be rectified by Wednesday afternoon, but he couldn't say when water would be fully restored to the various communities, as he said it was the responsibility of utilities company GEBE to distribute the water produced by Air-Fin.
Borgdeorff said Air-Fin had lost some of its production capacity – "a few thousand tonnes" of water – and its Cay Bay facility had been operating at two-thirds of its capacity up to yesterday.
He said the pumps in Cay Bay had encountered problems on Tuesday when a coupling between the pump and the motor snapped. GEBE was aware of the problem, he said, adding that Air-Fin always tried to keep the Cay Bay tank as full as possible.
GEBE posted information on its Website stating that it expected the distribution of water to return to normal by approximately 7:00pm yesterday.
"The Air-Fin production plant has flown in several parts and is working around the clock to resolve the issues at the Cay Bay water plant in order to restore water production to normal levels by tomorrow [today, Thursday].
"However, residents and businesses are requested to use water sparingly until the water production plant is fully operational. Homes and businesses with cisterns are also requested to use cistern water to maximise the water in the grid for those without an alternative water supply," GEBE said on its Website.

Government reviewing its employment permit policy

~ Maria: 'We believe the process should be more efficient' ~

PHILIPSBURG--The employment permit policy is being reviewed with the aim of improving the labour market and making the process more efficient and less cumbersome, Labour Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus told reporters on Wednesday.
The age limit and the maximum period for which a permit can be granted are among the issues being looked at. The content of the current policy and the process to obtain permits are included in the review.
"We believe that the process should be much more efficient. At this moment, when you look at the process to obtain a work and residence permit there are areas of duplication in terms of documents. Sometimes you have cases of documents expiring because one process took longer than the other or [the documents] expired because the process took a little too longer than expected.
"I would say that it is much farther-reaching than just a few cosmetic changes. It's geared towards improving our labour market. A very important focal point of that labour market is our local labour.
"Once the policy is amended, the objective is that we would have created an environment whereby we achieve the objective of improving the labour force in St. Maarten whereby our people, people on the local labour market, get all the opportunities that they should and where we run short that is supplemented ... by foreign labour."
She said at the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday that she expected to receive the first draft of the revised policy on Friday. After discussions, the draft will be presented to the Council of Ministers as her proposal. The Council "will decide when" the draft "is ready" to be presented to the Advisory Council for advice. "If there are no other issues, then it goes back to the Council of Ministers for final decision."
In response to a question, the minister said the matter also would be discussed in the tripartite setting.
"At the end of the day, the focus is on creating employment on the local market. Foreign employment is where we lack the required expertise for companies that want to establish, develop and help grow this economy."
Asked whether the issue of the Brooks Tower Accord (BTA) permit holders was included in the review, Buncamper-Molanus said: "While we have not sat down and discussed it, we intend to, ... because we don't want to cause an imbalance where one group of people, after not having abided by the rules, will now get an advantage over those who have done their best to be properly registered through work and residence permits.
"There has to be a balance and has to be fair so it's something that we will be discussing."

Eight perish off BVI in smuggling tragedy

~ Three men arrested in St. Maarten ~

PHILIPSBURG--Two more bodies have been recovered from the sea near Tortola following the capsizing of a St. Maarten boat involved in the smuggling of suspected Haitians to the British Virgin Islands. This brings the death toll to eight, including two small children. The identities of the victims are not yet known.
Virgin Island Search and Rescue (VISAR) spokesman Phil Aspinal said there was one adult male and police later confirmed that the second body was that of another child.
Four survivors are still in hospital, whilst a further 21 people are being detained at the Balshum Ghut detention centre.
Amongst the many issues that have arisen because of the tragedy is that care has to be taken by the authorities to ensure that cholera, of which there have been many cases in Haiti, is not transmitted to people in the Virgin Islands. No trace of cholera has been established by the medical authorities to date.
Survivors have given evidence as to the identity of the organisers of the smuggling and as a result three men were arrested in Cay Hill in the vicinity of the 1234 and More store.
The three are said to be Haitians J.J.C. (50), L.B. (43) and L.S.M. (62), living legally on the island. All are now in custody and are assisting the Kingdom Detective Cooperation Team RST with its enquiries.
Three house searches were conducted, followed by two searches in offices. Computers, documents and several thousand dollars were confiscated. Meanwhile, an investigation in Tortola is being undertaken by a joint team of officers of the RST, Marechaussees and St. Maarten Police Force in cooperation with the Coast Guard and French-side authorities.

Wescot-Williams confirms interview by US authorities

page4c174PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams has confirmed that she was interviewed by US authorities about the CaribNews Conference held here in 2008. The conference has featured in the ethics scandal involving veteran New York Congressman Charles Rangel who was censured by the House of Representatives on December 2.
Rangel, the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, failed to pay taxes for 17 years on income from his rental villa in the Caribbean.
Asked about her relationship with Rangel, the prime minster said there was none and added that neither the local government, nor any related organs or persons is "the object of the investigation."
Pressed for more information, Wescot-Williams said the interview dealt with the conference and preferred to limit her remarks to that issue, leaving any further details up "to those conducting the investigation."
Justice Minister Roland Duncan, through whose office the request for the interview was filed by US authorities, said the interview was based on a treaty between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States dealing with the provision of information and assistance in investigations.
"The Prime Minister graciously accepted to be interviewed. She was not obligated to or in anyway forced to. The request came in to the Justice Department and she accepted."
Speaking about another treaty - Friendship Treaty of 1957 - that exists between the two countries, Duncan said parts of the treaty had been in constant use while other parts had been overlooked. "Nobody bothered to look at the rest of the treaty."
One part that had been in contention has been whether US citizens required permits to reside and open businesses here. The treaty stated that US citizens would be treated somewhat the same as Dutch nationals, but this clause was never enforced and some US citizens have taken to court on the matter.
A part of the treaty that has been in constant use has been the legal proceedings bond waiver for US citizens. All non-Dutch nationals filing court cases here are required to pay a bond to the court to cover the court cost, but the treaty waives this for US citizens.
The Friendship Treaty is under discussion between Duncan and the new US Consul General stationed in Curaçao.
As for treaties in general, based on a new addition – Article 27 – in the Kingdom Charter, the kingdom government is now obliged to involve St. Maarten in negotiations leading up to the signing of treaties, especially those of importance to the St. Maarten, Duncan said.
He said gone were the days of the kingdom government expecting "silent approval" of treaties by the Parliaments of the Caribbean part of the Kingdom as was attempted with the Franco-Dutch Treaty a few years ago.
While silent approval was pushed for, Duncan, then Netherlands Antilles Constitutional Affairs Minister, pushed for it to be discussed by parliament.

St. Peters residents calling for proper sewage system

page1a173~ Want people to take pride in neighbourhood ~

ST. PETERS--Through the voices of members of the incoming St. Peters Community Council, the older heads in the district are pleading with Government to set up a proper sewage system for the district, which has been plagued for many years by the problem of waste water on its streets.
Spokesperson Rene "Koto" Wilson said the days were long gone when the "runoff" crisis in St. Peters could be linked to the natural springs in the area. "I am 37 years and living in St. Peters all my life, I have known water running throughout the neighbourhood. This has been because of actions of the residents," he said.

Infrastructure
During a walk through St. Peters with Wilson, he told The Daily Herald the district had always had a problem with runoff, but it had been clean water. Now it is anybody's guess what is running through the streets of St. Peters.
page8b173"The runoff is continuous 24/7 with or without rain. The moss is a clear indication that it is running year-around," said Wilson. The problem, he continued, is that property owners have become delinquent about having their sewage pits pumped regularly by a sewage truck, resulting in an overflow of the pits into the streets and neighbouring yards.
Moreover, there have been reports of property owners resorting to pumping their raw sewage onto the streets late at night or whenever there is a heavy downpour. He explained that over the years a home which initially had been designed to cater to a family of six, for example, had been expanded into an apartment complex housing many more without an upgraded sewage system.
"There is overpopulation in homes. One home designed for six people has 40 people in it. Then when there is a fire, a life is always lost because of too many people in one house," Wilson commented.
He said that while some residents took pride and were compliant by having their sewage pits pumped regularly and upgrading their sewage systems as they developed their properties, others were neglecting to do so.
Infrastructure throughout the district is poor. Instead of running sewage pipes to sewage pits, some property owners allow these pipes to be left open and positioned in such a manner that runoff flows either onto the street or directly into neighbouring yards.
"Residents are not taking pride in their neighbourhood. There are a lot of people of different cultures who move into the neighbourhood and they are bringing their ways of living as in other countries," said Wilson.

page8c173Health risk
He also noted that several sickly individuals were living under these conditions, where stagnant water also serves as breeding ground for mosquitoes – a feature which contributes to the spread of dengue. The Daily Herald visited one home where the entire basement was flooded with old reeking water as a result of runoff from other properties.
Moreover, a diabetic resident of the district, Marie Francisco, pointed out how the constant runoff in her yard was not ideal for her condition, as it harboured mosquitoes. She noted that her house had been built in 1971 and not until 1996, after Hurricane Luis, had she noticed substantial runoff in the area.
According to Francisco, the runoff has caused the gradual deterioration of her son's apartment in the same yard. It is sinking to one side and immense mould has damaged the roof and caused tiles in the apartment bathroom to fall off. Tenants of the apartment had to relocate as a result.
Wilson said health inspectors of Government's Hygiene Department had been notified of the situation throughout St. Peters and had visited the homes of those complaining. Promises have been made to take action, but to no effect.
Wilson mentioned a couple who had been trying to stop the flow of runoff in their yard for the last 20 years. Their daughter suffers from skin irritation, which is not helped by this unhygienic situation. Inspectors visited this family recently and indicated a solution, but the family still awaits relief.

Alternatives and response
Marie Remou is amongst residents who have constructed a sort of retention wall to help direct the flow of runoff out of their yards. She pointed out how a damaged GEBE water pipe at the entrance to her yard contributed to the continuous flow of water in her yard.
She said she had contacted the relevant authorities more than three weeks ago to deal with the pipe. She said GEBE workers had visited her home on Lemon Road twice, inspected the pipe and still had not done anything about it.
page8d173"I pay my taxes," commented Remou.
Wilson said this was a typical example of the neglect of the district. "The neighbourhood has been left like only dogs and hogs live in it. People have to take pride in cleaning their neighbourhood, but you can only do so much. Government has to enforce laws, government has to create inspectors that come around once in a while and inspect how you keep your house and yard.
"People need to start getting fines like back in the 1980s when you had to pay NAf. 1,000 guilders if you were caught littering. Change that NAf. 1,000 now to US $2,500, start to create revenues for country St. Maarten. These monies can be used for rebuilding streets," Wilson suggested.
He said the initial beautification project for the district had included, along with the upgrading of the main road, also upgrading the side streets. However, these streets remain grimy and lined with old lampposts bearing old tangled cable lines, while underground wiring has already been completed in the area.

Garbage collection
Walking through St. Peters, debris can be seen on all street corners. Wilson said large rubbish bins were not being placed strategically. Instead of a bin being placed in front of a home with several apartments, it is placed on a street corner by a home that is not occupied by many individuals.
Moreover, residents who attempt to keep their surroundings clean are discouraged when the whole neighbourhood throws rubbish in that one particular bin, placed on their property without authorisation.
On top of this, Wilson said garbage collectors did not pick up garbage scattered outside of bins. It is left there and dragged throughout the neighbourhood by wind gusts or by the vast number of stray animals in the area.
An example of this, St. Peters resident Mr. Smith pointed out, was a large bin that had been placed on a cleared plot of Government land at the junction of Grapefruit and Apricot Roads following a recent tropical storm. Residents were encouraged to place their hurricane debris in this bin and on the plot of land, to be taken to the dump.
However, in the process of clearing this land a hole was dug where water has been settling from runoff and rain. The mixture of water and waste now harbours mosquitoes and attracts pigs. Mr. Smith said residents living around this plot of land had been calling for the dumping on this lot to be stopped.

New Council
Wilson said the new St. Peters Community Council intends to push for the creation of jobs for young unemployed males in the neighbourhood. The council is suggesting that Government hire these young men to clean up their own neighbourhood, while the council supervises this process.
The council is also suggesting police use tactics used in former times to get rid of stray animals. He said if the owner of a goat, dog, pig, cow, etc. could not be determined, the animal should be shot as was done in the past. He noted that some of these animals were ferocious and had attacked youngsters in the neighbourhood from time to time.
Wilson said the council wanted to work closely with police on the issue of crime in the district and could assist in identifying criminals more promptly.
The team vying to form the new board of the council consists of 11 St. Peters residents, supported largely by the older heads in the district and the past board.
A general meeting will be held shortly to elect members of the board. For more information contact Wilson at 553-2393.

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