MARIGOT–The main arteries of the French side remained blocked with barricades on Friday as the protest action continued for the second day running. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence, mainly from protestors throwing projectiles at Gendarmes or their vehicles, but not on the scale witnessed on Thursday.
The entrance to Marigot in Bellevue still remained open, but once on the French side travel by car remained problematic or impossible with barricades up in Grand Case, French Quarter, and Oyster Pond.
Sandy Ground was cut off with barricades erected again on both sides of the bridge. Protestors were once more camped out on the bridge ready and armed for the next confrontation.
A large pile of tyres were seen burning on Rue de Hollande close to the Agrément roundabout. Cars were also seen burning outside Le Beach Hotel in the morning as Gendarmes observed from a distance, and in Oyster Pond.
No show of force had been made by Gendarmes up to 4:30pm to clear the Sandy Ground bridge and remove barricades or in Grand Case or French Quarter, but there was no telling when violence would erupt and where. Authorities confirmed that reinforcements had been requested from Guadeloupe; an initial number quoted was 20 additional Gendarmes. It was understood a military plane with Gendarmes landed at Grand Case at 6:00pm.
The Préfecture ordered a ban on retail sales of gasoline, particularly in cans, when it was learnt from videos that protestors were assembling incendiary and explosive devices and accumulating oil to start fires. A report of looting could not be confirmed. The Running Night sports event due to be held in Marigot on Friday evening was postponed until December 20.
Defying a very tense atmosphere, Préfète Déléguée Sylvie Feucher spent the day talking to protestors in Grand Case and French Quarter with President Gibbs and his vice-presidents, both attempting to respond to the people’s concern in sometimes chaotic scenes.
Gibbs was visibly distraught and angry over approval of the natural risk prevention plan PPRN by the Enquiry Commission without it taking into account the close to 300 recommendations submitted by the Collectivité from its own technical commissions. He made it clear he is on the side of the people in their fight. He and his vice-presidents also spoke to inhabitants in Sandy Ground.
“We have been saying the same things for weeks and months, but the State just doesn’t want to listen to the cry of the people,” he said. “We voted unanimously in the Council that we don’t want a PPRN in the form that it is now. What you are seeing today and yesterday is the result of that obstinance from the State.”
However, the Préfecture has insisted the PPRN process is not over and a final version is not likely to be implemented until next year, with the recommendations to be addressed.
“Without taking into account the people’s objections, it reinforces the State’s position that the PPRN is good. But all St. Martin people know it isn’t,” said Territorial Councillor Jean-Raymond Benjamin. “That’s the main problem. Approval gives the Préfète authorization to execute.”
Vice-President in charge of urban planning Steven Patrick said the current proposed PPRN is a draft or working document, not to be fully implemented until next year.
“The problem is that this draft ‘by anticipation’ legally says the draft, while not finalised, is applicable today,” Patrick pointed out. “Even though the draft is not legally binding, the fact that there is knowledge of it means that we are anticipating something that is going to come, even if it might change, and we don’t know what those changes will be. Until those changes happen, we still have to apply it until we make the changes.
“The work that we have to do to make those changes is a lot of work and we don’t have the expertise and will have to depend on the State services. The Urban Plan we have to elaborate on before the new PPRN can be validated is going to be based on a PPRN by anticipation. In other words, it’s putting the cart before the horse.”
Patrick said that in his view nothing will improve until the PPRN by anticipation is reversed.