St. Eustatius: How ‘Green’ is the Golden Rock?
Part III of a multi-part series originally published on Ecology.com.
By Betsy Crowfoot
Even as St. Eustatius (Statia) was putting the final touches on its Spatial Development Plan last spring, NuStar Energy LLP was forging ahead with preparations for a second oil terminal on the small central-Caribbean Island.
Already the Fortune 500 company has more than 60 storage tanks on the north end of Statia: their largest terminal, according to NuStar’s annual report. And the company hopes to add 30-some additional tanks to an island roughly five miles long by two miles wide. However, their preferred site – a 10-minute walk from downtown Oranjestad – was not zoned for industrial use as such.
But with the island’s Strategic Development Plan adopted and the Spatial plan imminent, the handwriting was on the wall. NuStar hurriedly commenced preparation for the expansion: so hastily, the company’s own Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) repeatedly stated surveyors were unable to fully assess risks to island flora and fauna, due to the rushed timeframe.
Site in Question
The proposed terminal site hugs iconic Signal Hill, in the central populated third of the island. Originally designated by the strategic plan as a natural park, with a heritage trail planned through the historic ruins, the spatial plan expanded the purposing to business usage. NuStar subsequently applied to the island government to re-zone that parcel of land, to allow grading along Signal Hill and construction of 30 to 40, 100-foot (31m) high oil storage and processing tanks.
But those designations did not stop NuStar from clearing the land, under the guise of an archaeological briefing: one which ultimately would call the parcel, “the largest concentration of archaeological sites of any area of comparable size in the Americas.”
In July, Judge René van Veen of Statia’s Court of First Instance denied an injunction to halt the excavations, stating that the Treaty of Malta prohibited archaeological remains from being damaged.
But Walter Hellebrand, Director of the St. Eustatius Monuments Foundation (SEMF), indicated one of the historic buildings had already been dismantled. And NuStar’s own commissioned study announced plans to grade the land for the installation would be devastating. “All archaeological remains … higher than 65 feet (20m) will be destroyed, while all archaeological sites lower than this will be covered up and possibly damaged and destroyed.”
Meanwhile, the REA was assigned to Royal Haskoning, an independent consulting firm, who warned the project jeopardized several of the islands rare and native species, even as the firm grumbled about the insufficient time allotted for the study.
Endangered Species at Risk
Those rare and endemic species include three small reptiles, the endangered Red Bellied Racer snake and several birds that breed in limited areas; including the Red Billed Tropicbird – said to number only 7,500 worldwide. Two of three tropicbird breeding colonies lie within or adjacent the expansion zone: a serious concern considering these birds are known to abandon their nests if disturbed, during incubation and chick rearing. Guarding their well being is all the more imperative as Red Billed Tropicbird nests on neighboring Saba have been devastated by predation, “making the viability of the St. Eustatius population critical to the wider success of the species,” the REA read.
Similarly, concerns were expressed regarding the Lesser Antillean Iguana – a protected and vulnerable species living directly within the proposed footprint. This critically endangered iguana has already suffered serious decline due to habitat destruction and other factors, and is thought to thrive on the Sugar Apple tree – many of which will also be eradicated if the plan goes through.
Leader in Environmentalism
The nation of the Netherlands has a history as a leader in conservation and sustainability since the 1980s. Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard, the 73-year monarch, is highly educated and degreed in law, and recognized as spearheading sentiment toward environmentalism in 1988 – in all of Europe, as much as the Netherlands. Subsequently a national environmental policy was established, calling for the world’s first sustainable economy. Indeed, the green buzz in the Netherlands became so popular, it was said their call to action – “A better environment begins with you” – was more familiar than the most popular beer jingle.
But does the ‘green’ stop at the Golden Rock?
“I distrust the Dutch,” admitted Hellebrand. “Their agenda is not ours. They don’t live here. What do they care if The Farm (the expansion site) is going to be turned into an industrial zone? They are going to get the tax.”
Complicating the expansion issue is the Netherlands interest in tax revenue generated on the island. Since October 2010, when the Netherland Antilles was dissolved and Statia became a municipality of a nation nearly 5,000 miles (8,000km) away, any taxes generated by NuStar will go to the Netherlands.
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