MARIGOT–Former French-side Chamber of Commerce President Jean Arnell says that in his view the new Plan de Prévention des Risques Naturels (PPRN), as it stands now, will have serious consequences in reducing the French side’s economic competitiveness and attractiveness. He suggests more attention should be paid to analysing hurricane risk trajectory models and strike probability.
The French Government has revisited the natural risk prevention plan, the last version of which was issued in 2011, and updated it based on the consequences of Hurricane Irma.
The new plan has been published and is subject to three public presentations, the second of which is today, and a public enquiry before it is brought out and enforced in January 2020. It was understood the Préfecture wants certain parts of it enforced as of July 2019.
The multi-risk plan designed to protect the population takes into account the risks of hurricanes, flooding, ground movement, earthquakes and soil liquefaction, with separate maps in different colours for each type of disaster. Risk zones are clearly identified and water levels defined in deepening colours depending on how high the level rose.
Arnell’s first concern is that the documents are all in French and, with much of the population English-speaking, those local people will feel excluded in the process.
“There needs to be at least a summary of those documents in English,” he said.
According to Arnell, the Government wants to impose a 50-metre danger (non-construction) zone along the shorelines of French St. Martin.
“What that means is that existing constructions will remain, but there may be difficulties getting insurance, difficulties in financing upgrades to those constructions, and basically the French Government will exempt itself from responsibility for persons living in that 50-metre zone, leaving that responsibility to the Collectivité or to the people themselves. That’s the challenge presented by this document,” Arnell told The Daily Herald.
He added that the Dutch side will not have a natural disaster prevention plan as restrictive as the French one. Moreover, Guadeloupe and Martinique, both in the same hurricane belt, are not subject to the same PPRN document.
“For a small territory with a one-pillar tourism economy, we are being asked to sacrifice a shoreline based on a risk management plan that is based on the probability of another Irma. But what is the probability, year to year, of another Irma hitting St. Martin over the next 20 years?
“You don’t want to prepare for such a risk and make such an economic sacrifice when the probability of the risk occurring is so low. The risk is there, but the gap between Luis in 1995 and Irma was 22 years. What’s important to me is to disclose to the population these American and European risk and hurricane-trajectory models in order to understand what the real risk is.”
France has a natural disaster insurance system called CatNat to which one contributes in the insurance policy with a portion going to the CatNat fund and from there to Caisse Centrale de Réassurance (CCR).
When a French territory is declared a natural disaster by decree, insurance pay-outs do not come from the insurance companies but from CCR. Irma was France’s costliest natural disaster to date at a billion euros.
Arnell is sure the expropriation conversation will become more relevant regarding the many people living and owning property in the 50-metre zone on the shorelines of Sandy Ground, Grand Case and French Quarter. Those who do not have title and occupying domain land could be the first to be uprooted with minimal or no compensation.
“I’m saying let’s have a clear understanding of the risk probability and make the appropriate decisions. It is not wise to sacrifice the economy, to devalue people’s land, because we were hit by Irma.”
Arnell draws attention to a comparative analysis of flood risks in Ile de France, Paris, which proves that even with a greater risk of flooding, the State is not implementing a non-constructible zone or moving people out of Ile de France.
“The probability of Paris being flooded by the River Seine is greater than the probability of St. Martin being hit by another Hurricane Irma,” he argues.
“Paris, Ile de France, and that region as a whole, represents 30 per cent of France’s gross domestic product (GDP) yet there are no danger zones and very few building restrictions. That’s because the economy prevails over risk management. Instead, there are a lot of other measures taken such as improving the resilience of networks and creating awareness among the population.
“My point is that no other risk prevention plan is so restrictive as this PPRN for St. Martin. It will have devastating economic consequences, serious social consequences in terms of devaluation of people’s land and displacing the population, and consequences on the people’s ability to be insured once that 50-metre band is set up. We should not enforce this plan as it is now. We don’t want to restrict construction in areas where risk is low.”