Minister for the French Overseas Territories Jean-François Carenco (left) discusses the Sargassum threat at the ferry departure area in Cul-de-Sac Bay with Préfet Vincent Berton (right), Préfecture Secretary-General Fabien Sésé (second right) President Louis Mussington (third left) and Vice-President Bernadette Davis (second left). (Robert Luckock photos)
MARIGOT-- Delegated Minister for the French overseas territories Jean-François Carenco began a three-day visit to St. Martin and St. Barths on Saturday. He was met at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) by Préfet Vincent Berton before the delegation headed straight to Oyster Pond and Babit Point where they were joined by President of the Collectivité Louis Mussington and Second Vice-President Bernadette Davis.
This was Carenco’s first official visit to the two Northern islands since his appointment in June. He was briefed on the urgency of reconstructing areas of Oyster Pond such as Captain Oliver’s Hotel and Marina, essential for reviving the economy and boosting tourism and jobs in this part of the island. It brought into question the long-running border dispute over demarcation at Oyster Pond and uncertainty in other areas.
The subject was discussed privately, but the Préfecture subsequently confirmed that an “agreement” had been reached between Paris and The Hague and all that remained was “for technical details to be worked out.”
It was also confirmed in The Daily Herald’s Friday edition that “final steps” are being taken to finalise the St. Martin/St. Maarten border treaty between the Netherlands and France so it can be signed in early 2023, according to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Hanke Bruins Slot. The first official negotiations to determine the land borders between the two sides of the island took place in September.
Carenco said the negotiations in Paris September 12-16 had allowed significant progress to be made on the subject. “These advances are necessary in order to rebuild the marina. I hope that we can sign a final agreement before June 2023.”
After Oyster Pond and explanations on the work of Conservatoire du Littoral, the delegation visited the whale observatory in Coralita before moving on to Cul-de-Sac Bay and the Pinel Island departure area where the Minister was updated on the Sargassum situation and plans to construct floating booms that will protect the bay in the future.
One Pinel Island ferry captain expressed privately his disappointment that Carenco had chosen to visit now when the bay was completely free of Sargassum, when it would have been better for him to see first-hand how bad it was before.
Carenco praised Mussington and his teams for their handling of the Sargassum crisis in recent months. This year has been the mostly costly in terms of volume of Sargassum to remove and cost. Carenco reiterated that the State’s national anti-Sargassum plan is pumping 150,000 euros of investment into Sargassum preparedness for the start of St. Martin’s 2023 tourist season, including 60,000 euros for installation of the aforementioned booms and other equipment.
Next was a visit to Grand Case Beach Club where Carenco was shown the hotel’s new conference centre which doubles as a hurricane shelter. An official inauguration of it will take place in November.
A tourism round-table conference then took place with Carenco in Sunset Café.
Sunday was devoted to visiting St. Barths. Carenco is back in St. Martin today, Monday, when he will meet the elected officials of the Territorial Council for exchanges. Further visits on Monday include Electricité de France (EDF) headquarters, Mission Locale in Concordia, and the Chamber of Commerce where he will meet members of the business community. A lunch will be prepared by students of the Lycée’s hotel and catering section.
On Tuesday Carenco will visit Sandy Ground in the context of the City Policy (Politique de la Ville). He is also scheduled to meet Dutch-side Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs in the afternoon before he departs for Paris.