Published On: Thu, Jan 10th, 2019

Government turns a deaf ear to Dock Maarten’s complaints about Bobby’s Marina

bobbys-marina-2-feb-2016

Authorities tolerate unfair competition at Great Bay Marina

PHILIPSBURG – The dispute between Dock Maarten, Bobby’s Marina and Country St. Maarten is alive and kicking. Bobby’s Marina continues to operate on parcels of water without holding long lease rights and valid building permits, to infringe upon de Neutral Waterway Agreement and to ignore government-orders to take down illegally constructed structures. The government does nothing against this and even refuses to entertain a meeting with Dock Maarten to discuss the situation.

One major bone of contention is the irrefutable fact that Bobby’s Marine has been using water parcels without holding rights to long lease. VROMI’s Secretary-General Louis Brown offered the marina a way out in a letter dated March 31, 2016. Realigning all parcels currently in use by the company – totaling 11,222 square meters – the ministry offered the lot in long lease for an annual fee of 222,220 guilders ($124,145). Because the marina has had the land in use for a very long time without holding the long lease rights, the ministry also demanded retroactive pay for five years,  another $620,725, or 1.1 million guilders.

Bobby’s Marina did not react to this offer. On the contrary, on March 24, 2017, VROMI informs Dock Maarten’s attorney Roeland Zwanikken that “Bobby’s Marina requests for long lease seems to be frustrated by Bobby’s Marina itself.” A month earlier, VROMI made known that the marina had not paid the Cadastre fees for the preparation of a new Certificate of Admeasurement, while Domain Affairs had instructed the company to do this in a letter dated June 8, 2016.

By not paying its long lease fees, Bobby’s Marina has an unfair advantage over its competitor Dock Maarten; that company does pay all its long lease fees.

Another sore point remains that Bobby’s Marina built structures on water parcels without holding the right of long lease. On March 24, 2017, the VROMI-inspectorate issued a stop-order to Samantha Benjamin, Chief of Staff at Bobby’s Marina. The company had to remove all structures on land and water that are not covered by building permit 222/09 within twenty business days. The company had to obtain a hindrance permit for all boat yard activities within ten days and to remove waste and debris from its property within ten days as well. The order was signed by then VROMI-Minister Christophe Emmanuel.

But Bobby’s Marina did not do anything and the government, despite threats with administrative action, looked the other way as well.

Another issue is the so-called Neutral Waterway, a strip of water that separates Bobby’s Marina from Dock Maarten’s marina. In 2005 parties signed an agreement to respect this neutral zone and on September 11, 2015, Brown confirmed in an email to Dock Maarten’s attorney that the agreement will be respected.

But Dock Maarten was concerned that any activity within the Neutral Waterway would make access to its piers precarious, if not impossible, especially because the company that that owns a piece of land between the two marinas, wanted to get the right of long lease to a water parcel in front of its land. Since 2014 the land is the property of the Sint Maarten Harbour Seashore Development NV. Filling in that piece of water, building a (floating) pier, or mooring vessels would make access to the closest Dock Maarten pier both difficult if not impossible and perilous.

On November 18, 2016, the Court in First Instance ruled in a lawsuit entertained by Dock Maarten in favor of the plaintiff. “If a part of the Neutral Waterway is filled in, if a floating pier is built there or if the owner of the property allows yachts to dock there, the closest pier of Dock Maarten will be not or hardly accessible anymore,” the court ruled.

The court found that the agreement of October 24, 2005 (about the Neutral Waterway) “obliges the country to guarantee the accessibility to the Neutral Waterway.”

Dock Maarten’s concerns about this issue were fueled by a remark in a letter from VROMI-Minister Angel Meyers, dated September 16, 2016. In that letter, Meyers notes that he will “as much as possible” respect the neutral waterway agreement. For the court that was reason enough to forbid the government to issue the right of long lease to Corplease. The court also ordered the country to prevent the placement of floating piers on the water parcel that borders on the land Corplease holds in long lease. The court set a penalty of $1 million per violation of this order with a maximum of $10 million.

That court ruling blocked an earlier decision by VROMI-Minister Angel Meyers to grant Corplease that right of long lease for a period of sixty years.

On November 19, 2018, Dock Maarten’s attorney invited the government to confirm within ten days that it agrees with Dock Maarten’s interpretation of the Neutral Waterway agreement. The government failed to react to this letter and now the country will find itself once more involved in a lawsuit, together with Bobby’s Marina.

Bobby Velasquez (who insists on using the incorrect prefix Sir to his name – it does not exist in the Dutch royal honor system) strongly disagrees with Dock Maarten’s interpretation of the Neutral Waterway agreement.

In a November 5, 2018 reaction to an email from Louis Brown, Velasquez bitterly complains about the government’s lack of interest in his activities. “I’ve been here for over fifty years now and have never had the liberty of enjoying government’s presence in any of my positive activities which greatly benefit Country St. Maarten. Government only turns up to see how they can tear down a local man and continue to put up obstacles. (….) Why is it that government never comes by with a helping hand? (….) “Maybe I am crying over spilt milk but it’s a sad situation. I don’t think anyone can disagree.”

On November 27, 2018, Dock Maarten director Brian Deher sent a letter to Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin, requesting a meeting to discuss the neutral waterway dispute. But the prime minister chose to ignore the invitation to react before December 5, leaving Dock Maarten no other option than to include the government in its now pending lawsuit.

The court hearing is on the agenda for February 5, 2019.