MARIGOT--Hikers walking the trails close to the Cole Bay border on Wednesday became alarmed by an excavator clearing land, resulting in a flurry of social media posts and charges that a slavery wall had been damaged.
St. Maarten Pride Foundation was also alerted. Facing Marigot, the area concerned is across from the border monument above where a telecommunications pole is located.
According to information obtained by The Daily Herald, five trainees from the adapted military academy of Guadeloupe (Régiment du Service Militaire Adapté (RSMA)) are taking part in an educational work camp, part of which is to learn how to drive and operate mechanical equipment. They are under the supervision of three professional members of Bâtiment Travaux Publiques (BTP), the main public works association on the French side.
RSMA is a military-style training academy in Guadeloupe offering young people without qualifications the opportunity to learn a trade and develop skills. RSMA recruits many St. Martiners into the programme each year.
The Collectivité said on Wednesday that it had nothing to do with what was going on, instead redirecting enquiries to RSMA and the State (Préfecture).
RSMA said the work involves conducting a geographical survey and clearing a strip of land to create a firebreak and establish the border line. The work began on January 30 and is due to end on February 10, although the Préfecture suggested the work may have already finished. Equipment used includes a hydraulic shovel and two trucks to remove debris.
Préfecture Director of Cabinet Services Julien Marie confirmed the RSMA operation.
“The students are clearing certain areas with the agreement of landowners. This is not part of any particular project in the area as far as I know and I don’t think this is constructible land anyway according to town planning rules,” Marie said. He made no mention of whether or not a slavery wall had been damaged.
St. Maarten Pride Foundation Vice President Reuben Thompson said: “When you look at one of the photos we posted on Facebook, it appears on the left that the slavery wall has been partially damaged, and that’s what I was told by hikers too. There is concern that the work may have infringed on Dutch-side property somewhat, but that’s something I can’t verify and have not received answers on.”
Contacted on Thursday, BTP said none of its members in St. Martin were supervising the students, raising the possibility that supervisors from BTP in Guadeloupe were there, or another company. An RSMA contact person could not immediately be reached to ascertain whether the slavery wall had been damaged during the work and who the supervisors were.
Thompson said the Dutch-side government needs to go and look at the situation, if it has not done so already, as the work has been going on at the border line and it could be assumed the old slavery wall may well have been marking the border.
“If the wall has been partly destroyed, doesn’t it then become an issue between St. Maarten and Saint-Martin?” he questioned. “Is this a one-sided effort by the French side to figure out the border or is it being done in connection with the Dutch side? Is the wall on the French side or the Dutch side?”
Thompson said the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI and Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) need to be involved, the latter in case there are historical artefacts there.
“Has the inspection department been out there, has the Cadastre department been contacted to see which plot it is on, and if it is on the French or Dutch side? This potentially could be an international incident if the work has encroached onto the Dutch side and if a historical structure has been damaged. Again, this is hypothetical, but we need answers. The situation needs to be properly determined.”