MARIGOT–The French-side’s main potable water distributor Générale des Eaux Guadeloupe, a subsidiary of France Veolia, has given notice that it intends to move its operations out of the French Caribbean before its present contract with St. Martin is up in 2020, prompting the Collectivité to negotiate an exit strategy that would involve compensation.
Thursday’s last Territorial Council meeting and press conference before the summer break discussed this development which involves launching a new Délégation de Service Publique (DSP) for a new provider.
Reasons cited for Générale des Eaux’s departure from the French Antilles include lack of profitability due to poor infrastructure and unpaid bills, said to account for 20 per cent of revenue. Potable water, it was noted, costs consumers 9.3 euros per cubic metre on the French side compared to 3.85 euros in France.
The Collectivité notes that having two providers, a distributor and a producer, is not economically viable, and wants one company to provide both functions, to produce water at lower cost and offer a better purchase price.
This also puts Union Caraibe de Dessalement d’Eau de Mer (UCDEM), the desalinated water producer, in an uncertain position. UCDEM wants to stay, but its contract expired in 2015 and it has continued operating none the less, pending a new temporary contract and negotiation with the Collectivité and for its departure as well.
Negotiations will be led by Etablissement des Eaux et L’Assainissement de St. Martin (EEASM) and the Collectivité’s lawyer.
“Water is too expensive in St. Martin and remains a system that still generates too many unpaid bills and nobody is benefitting,” said President Daniel Gibbs. “It seems to me that a single provider for both production and distribution of water will impact the price per cubic metre in a positive way for consumers.”
“I want to reassure consumers in St. Martin that the change in providers scheduled for the end of June 2018 will be a smooth transition and absolutely should not impact the distribution of water in the territory. “
He said he saw no reason employees of both companies would not be retained by the new provider.
Opposition Councillor Louis Mussington denounced the price of water as “widespread exploitation of our people.”
The Council voted unanimously for the launching of a DSP.