Judgment reserved in highway lawsuit

Christmas in August

High Court judge Kevin Ramcharan has reserved his decision whether environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) should be granted leave to pursue its lawsuit challenging the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to approve the controversial Churchill-Roosevelt Highway Extension to Manzanilla.

Ramcharan indicated that he would need time to consider the issue after hearing lengthy submissions on it during a hearing in the Port-of-Spain High Court, which continued well past 7 pm yesterday.

The interim injunction granted last week against Ministry of Works and Transport and the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), limiting the scope of works which can continue on the site, will stay in place until Ramcharan’s delivers his decision after Carnival.

In the event that Ramcharan refuses FFOS leave and rules that its case does not have a reasonable prospect of success, the interim injunction would be immediately lifted and its application for a injunction pending the final determination of the claim would be automatically dismissed.

If FFOS is successful, Ramcharan would then determine the substantive injunction.

Presenting submissions on behalf of the EMA, Senior Counsel Deborah Peake called for the case to be dismissed as she pointed out that FFOS filed the lawsuit over three months after her client granted the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) in June, last year.

She said it was in breach of the deadline allowed for the filing of judicial review lawsuits against State entities and institutions.

She also criticised the FFOS for failing to participate in public consultations for the project between December 2016 and January, last year.

“If they were truly interested they would have availed themselves to the opportunity to participate provided by the developer (Nidco),” she said as she noted that over 100 persons had participated.

Peake also claimed that the lawsuit was misconceived as FFOS claimed that the EMA was required to supervise the consultation process, when in fact its duty was to consider the opinions generated in Nidco’s consultation.

Douglas Mendes, SC, who is representing contractor Kall Co, submitted that the EMA has the sole remit to mitigate the environmental destruction, which is is inevitable in major infrastructure projects.

“We all have to trust that the EMA is doing its job to balance the competing interests,” Mendes said.

Nidco’s lawyer Ian Benjamin conferred with Peake and Mendes as he claimed that the interim injunction is costing the State $10 million a week.

FFOS lawyers were responding to the submissions up to late yesterday.

About the Highway

In the lawsuit, the group is challenging the process used by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for granting a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for first phase of the project between Cumuto and Guaico.

It is claiming that the process was procedural flawed and failed to consider alternative routes for the project, which would have less impact on the environment and existing communities.

It is questioning why the EMA took 10 days to publish the CEC in the national register after it was granted on June 22, last year.

The group is contending that the construction works, which commenced on January 8, hasalready infringed on the Aripo  Savannas forest reserve-a designated environmentally sensitive area.

Under the injunction, contractor Kall Co is only allowed to continue surveying the site, to construct a temporary site office and to remove logs that have already been felled under permission from the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture.

On Monday, the injunction was varied to allow Kall Co to widen an already existing access road to the site.

Last Friday, FFOS claimed that the Government was in breach of the injunction, however, the issue was not raised during a subsequent hearings.

About the Aripo Savannas

The Aripo Savannas is one of three locations across T&T that is designated an Environmentally Sensitive Area by the EMA.

The other two are the Matura National Park and Nariva Swamp.

According the EMA’s website the area is internationally renowned for its unusual flora and striking vegetation communities and is one of the more intensively studied natural ecosystems in Trinidad.

The website states: “It was designated as a Strict Nature Reserve because it is one of the areas in T&T with high scientific value, as it is the best remaining example of the types of ecosystems found within its boundaries. This designation makes the area eligible for special protection and management under the laws of T&T.”

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