Published On: Thu, Mar 7th, 2024

Controversy surrounds renovation of the Prince Bernhard Bridge

PHILIPSBURG — The Prince Bernhard Bridge – the connection between Bush Road and the A.Th. Illidge Road over the Fresh Pond – is once more the subject of a controversy. The Ministry of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) announced in a press statement that Omega Construction will take three to four months to restore the bridge. The work includes the demolition of the “existing monument.”

Said monument is a stone marker that identifies the structure as the Prince Bernhard Bridge. It has been in place since January 25, 1950, when Bernhard flew to St. Maarten in his Dakota – a Douglas DC-3 plane – to open the then nearly completed bridge.

In his book History of St. Maarten and St. Martin, author Johan Hartog writes that there was already a bridge over the Fresh Pond in 1930, aptly named the Fresh Pond Bridge. In 1950 it was rebuilt and renamed as the Prince Bernhard Bridge.

The St. Maarten Pride Foundation stated in a press release that it favors comprehensive repairs to the bridge but it considers the headline of the ministry’s press statement “Monument demolition marks the beginning of renovation” misleading. The foundation sent a number of questions to Minister Doran about this issue.

The first question is whether the bridge and its historical marker are on the monument list. Other questions are about the bridge’s structural integrity and its estimated remaining life span. Pride also asked whether stakeholders have been consulted and about the whereabouts of the plaque that carries the bridge’s name.

The last question is an interesting one: “Has the minister considered carrying out consultations regarding the current name of the bridge to determine whether or not there is now a desire to change its name considering the historical context?”

The term historical context requires some clarification, because it is not clear what Pride means by it. The stone carrying the bridge’s name has been in place for some 74 years so in that sense it is, as the ministry wrote in its press release “an aging monument adorning the bridge.” Historical, indeed.

There is however another aspect to think about and that is the history of the late Prince Bernhard. Historians have established that Bernhard was a member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi-party in the thirties of last century. Bernhard has always denied this but historians found his membership card in his personal archive after his death on December 1, 2004.

Seems like a good time to reconsider the name of the bridge. Instead of glorifying a man who once wore an SS-uniform, the government could opt for a more neutral indication. Fresh Pond Bridge?

The bridge was already the subject of controversy seven years ago. Christophe Emmanuel was Minister of VROMI at the time. He received a proposal to repair the pedestrian part of the bridge on October 5, 2017, and six days later he granted a contract for this job to a company called Soualiga Infrastructure. When Emmanuel’s successor Miklos Giterson looked into this issue he found that this company belonged to one Jeffrey Bremer, the spouse of Marisha Richardson who just happened to be chief of staff at Emmanuel’s ministry.

The price of the contract was $149,768.25, just below the $150,000 limit where contracts require the approval from the Council of Ministers. VROMI paid 50 percent of the price in advance but three months after Soualiga Infrastructure obtained the contract (and the money) the repairs had still not been done.

In 2022, Lady Grace interviewed VROMI-minister Doran on her radio program the Breakfast Lounge. On that occasion, Doran said that his ministry intends to plant “mini mangroves” and to erect platforms on both sides of the bridge for bird watching. Interesting idea but up to now it is just that. An idea.


Related article:
Save the Prince Bernhard Bridge (Updated)