MAHO: Country Sint Maarten has won the case against Alegria Real Estate NV over the long lease water rights. This decision was handed down on Friday, November 25, by the Court of Appeals in the case that was filed against the injunction case decision of the Court of First Instance. In this decision, the Court of Appeals has not only reversed the judgment by the Court in First Instance but also denied Alegria’s claim to be issued 13,525 m2 in water rights for 60 years based on their claimed agreement that would have been reached between the company and previous Government administrations. The area in question is located at Burgeaux Bay in Maho, adjacent to the Alegria-owned property, The Morgan Resort.
In September 2020, the Court in First Instance (Injunction/Civil Court) ordered Country Sint Maarten to issue water rights to Alegria based on Alegria’s stance that a legally binding settlement agreement was reached between the parties. That judgment also included a daily fine of NAf.10,000.- up to a maximum of NAf. 1 million if Country Sint Maarten failed to issue the draft ‘settlement’ decree that was supposedly agreed upon. Country Sint Maarten, represented by attorney Zylena Bary, filed an appeal against this injunction case as Country Sint Maarten considered the judgment to be incorrect. Pending the handling of the appeal case, the attorney also filed a request to suspend the working of the first judgment which was honored by the Court of Appeals. Country Sint Maarten remitted no payment to Alegria in the handling of this matter. However, the Court of Appeals’ ruling ordered Alegria to compensate Country Sint Maarten for legal fees.
In their 9-page decision to deny Alegria’s claims, among other legal matters, attention was paid to the question of which Court (administrative or civil) was the correct one to have the long lease issue adjudicated, the question if an agreement was reached that could bind Country Sint Maarten and if there was a reasonable expectation raised by Alegria that they would get said long lease rights. The Appeal Court did not consider that Alegria had a reasonable expectation that they would receive the water rights in a long lease due to, among other facts and circumstances, the negative advice from Domain Affairs which contradicted the actions of the former Secretary General of VROMI, the position of the Minister of VROMI Egbert Jurendy Doran as mentioned in the warning letter to said Secretary-General on August 5, 2020, and the minister’s denial of the request for water rights on October 6, 2020.
The Court of Appeals concludes that Country Sint Maarten, in any case in the injunction case originally filed by Alegria, is not bound by the email correspondence between the former attorney handling the matter for Country Sint Maarten and the attorney of Alegria. As such the decision in First Instance had to be annulled and the claims of Alegria were denied.
Concerning the judgment, Minister Doran said, “I count this a monumental victory for the people of Sint Maarten. Just over two years ago, I gave my commitment to correcting this egregious error on behalf of Country Sint Maarten. The civil servants of this Ministry have done their due diligence to protect our land and sea, and to defend the environment for this generation and others to come. We will continue to collaborate with non-governmental organizations such as the Nature Foundation and others in the best interest of Sint Maarten, her people, and our future. Many other wrongs are still being addressed, and we will continue to fix them with the integrity that is valued by the majority.”
The Ministry of VROMI and, by extension the entire Government of Sint Maarten, is very pleased with this outcome as this matter has been the source of much turmoil and uncertainty both internally and externally for the last 2 years.
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