State pledges an additional 190M euros for St. Martin

MARIGOT–After months of negotiation, the French State presented the final details of its financial support for the rebuilding of St. Martin and St. Barths at the fifth Inter-Ministerial Reconstruction Committee meeting held Monday in Paris, paving the way for reconstruction to begin.

After 163 million euros distributed for the emergency response in the wake of Irma for both islands and 140 million already dispensed to support businesses, St. Martin will receive an additional 190.6 million euros.

This is composed of 66.4 million euros towards the Collectivité’s investments plan, 46 million euros from European Solidarity funds, a loan of 60 million euros and 18.2 million euros for projects to reinstall State services.

The State indicated the additional aid brings the total amount of aid dispensed to both islands since Irma close to 500 million euros (493.6 million) translating into 11,000 euros per inhabitant.
The State’s contribution is in addition to aid sourced from other entities such as the European Union (EU), donations, loans, insurance pay-outs and the Collectivité’s own contributions.

Some 17 ministers, State Secretaries, Cabinet Directors and all services connected with reconstruction participated in the meeting, together with Inter-Ministerial Délégué for reconstruction Philippe Gustin and the respective Presidents of the Collectivités of St. Martin and St. Barths, Daniel Gibbs and Bruno Magras.

The meeting was also an opportunity for the Collectivité of St. Martin to present its 194.6-million-euro investment plan for reconstruction of public infrastructure within its own competences (schools, utility networks, etc.).

The State will finance one-third of the Collectivité investments, notably for the reconstruction of four schools, a new Omnisports Hall, all electrical networks and renovation of part of the social housing buildings. To this end the Collectivité will also benefit from a 60-million-euro loan and 46 million euros from European Union Solidarity Funds (FSUE) in 2018.
The State noted it is taking care of paying the interest on the 60-million-euro long-term loan.

The State will contribute 15 million euros to the 33.5-million anticipated cost of repairing or rebuilding schools. This will include constructing a new Collège (to replace the destroyed Soualiga) for 900 students and the repairs/reconstructing of four schools.
The Collectivité will invest 12.9 million euros to repair sports infrastructure and construction of a new Omnisports building that will also serve as a hurricane shelter. The State is contributing 900,000 euros.

Some 29 million euros will be invested to protect persons from natural risks in terms of managing risk zones, constructing hurricane shelters and purchasing of disaster preparedness warning equipment. The State will contribute 17.8 million euros, representing more than 60 per cent of the Collectivité’s needs.
Repairs and reconstruction of Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital has a cost of 12.1 million euros, but this will be covered by insurance companies, 6.4 million of which is covered already by one insurer.

The State is contributing 14.7 million to the burying of all electrical networks and 5.6 million euros to drainage networks and potable water distribution. The total cost of repairs is 33.5 million euros, but more assistance is possible, and this file is not closed yet.
Repairs to social housing buildings is estimated at 12.8 million euros, excluding what is covered by insurance. The State is contributing 6 million euros.

Finally, the State will finance the reconstruction of a new Préfecture at a cost of 15 million euros and 3.2 million euros will be released to accommodate the Prefecture services in high-quality prefabricated buildings capable of withstanding extreme winds. These latter buildings will be completed before the start of the hurricane season.
The Collectivité of St. Martin presented its revised hurricane shelter plan which will be implemented by June1, 2018. It calls for acquiring the use of 11 public and private buildings (of which there are seven schools, a former Gendarmerie and a hotel) to accommodate 1,700 persons. These shelters will be stocked with food and water and other materials needed by the population.

In the long term from 2019 the Collectivité envisages the construction of two purpose-built shelters and a 3,000-square-metre Omnisports building that can double as a shelter.
A cleaning campaign will be realised between now and June 1, to remove as much debris as possible in the territory. This includes cleaning of private sites, destroying completely some buildings that are damaged and no longer to be used, and a major clean-up in each district in May and June.

There will also be an improved communication plan to inform the public. Communication equipment such as two-way radios, an antenna relay and other back-up equipment will be purchased to enable instant exchanges in case of a crisis. New telecommunication pylons will be erected to withstand winds of more than 350km per hour. Complementary communications such as use of megaphones can be used in the districts while a siren alert system is also being studied.

The Collectivité and the Préfecture are also preparing a new improved operational command centre in case of a crisis. The Centre Operationnel Territorial (COD) will be housed in two buildings instead of one.
The State indicated both islands have now received some 500 million euros in aid since Irma, translating into 11,000 euros per inhabitant. Some 163 million euros was spent in emergency response after Irma, covering deployment of some 3,000 state agents, volunteers, Army, Gendarmerie, Securité Civile, youth from adapted military regiments (RSMA), and deliveries of 1,800 tons of supplies by air and sea.

Some 140 million euros was spent on supporting businesses after Irma, notably financing a scheme of “partial unemployment” to pay 70 per cent of employees’ salaries, thus preventing businesses from firing their staff and going out of business. As of March 2018, 1,600 businesses representing 4,900 employees in St. Martin benefitted from this scheme.
The hurricanes caused 1.83 billion euros of damage to insured buildings on both islands. To date, only 609 million euros has been paid out in claims. However, the State is monitoring progress weekly.

Six months after Irma the State reports that the situation on both islands has “normalised with the return of all essential public services.”
“Networks have been re-established, administrations are functioning, and schools have been able to receive pupils despite occasional degraded conditions. Access to running water in St. Martin was assured close to 100 per cent by mid-January despite distribution difficulties. Electricity and mobile phone service was restored in record time.

“However, difficulties remain with the fixed land-line network which has impacted access to the Internet, notably for businesses. The regulator Autorités de Regulation de Communication Eléctroniques et des Postes (ARCEP) is going to issue new frequencies on the 3.5 GHz band in St. Martin and St. Barths to providers Dauphin Telecom and Orange Caraibes to rapidly restore new access.
“The security situation on both islands is optimal. A rotation system for Gendarmes, unique in France, has resulted in a 30-per-cent improvement in security.”

Source: The Daily Herald