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Judge strikes out CRH injunction: FFOS to appeal
The Ministry of Works and Transport has been given the green light to resume construction of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla, after an environmental lawsuit challenging the project was struck out yesterday.
Delivering a written decision in the Port-of-Spain High Court, Justice Kevin Ramcharan refused activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) leave to pursue its judicial review claim against the Environmental Management Authority (EMA)’s decision to approve the project.
As a result of the decision, FFOS’ interim injunction stopping work on the project, which was granted by Ramcharan as he considered the grant of leave last month, was automatically dismissed.
However, FFOS’s legal team was prepared for the eventuality and had already drafted an appeal which they immediately filed after the hearing was adjourned. The appeal comes up for hearing today at 11 am.
In his decision, Ramcharan ruled the lawsuit was filed outside the three-month statutory limit. He said that while FFOS was required to file the lawsuit three months after the EMA granted the ministry a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) on June 22, it filed it almost exactly three months after it learned of the CEC on July 6.
In addition to rejecting the claim based on the unreasonable delay, Ramcharan ruled that all 14 grounds raised by FFOS in the lawsuit did not have a realistic prospect of success if taken to trial. He also said he felt the EMA had followed the required process before granting the CEC.
As he analysed each ground individually, Ramcharan noted that FFOS’s claim over insufficient public consultation before the grant of the CEC was misconceived, as the ministry had gone three days past the month-long minimum period for soliciting public opinion. He acknowledged that he would have considered two internal correspondence between the EMA’s technical team and its board although they were leaked to FFOS. The correspondence detailed the team’s reservations over the project and an alleged directive from the EMA managing director to fast track the CEC.
However, Ramcharan stated that the allegations would not be arguable as the EMA’s board only had to consider the technical team’s opinion before making the final decision.
“Once the proper procedure was followed the court would not interfere, even if it does not agree with the final decision,” Ramcharan said.
He also ordered that FFOS pay the contractor for the project, Kall Co, its legal costs for the leave application, as it was added as an interested party.
In a brief interview after the decision, FFOS secretary Gary Aboud said they expected the outcome and were prepared to take their legal battle to the appeal courts.
“We are still very confident that the matter is of tremendous public importance and we respectfully disagree with the ruling. We were prepared and as we speak we are preparing to file the appeal,” Aboud said.
FFOS was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Alvin Pariagsingh and Robert Abdool-Mitchell. Deborah Peake, SC and Ravi Heffes-Doon represented the EMA, while Ian Benjamin represented the ministry. Kall Co was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC and Devesh Maharaj.
ABOUT THE HIGHWAY
In the lawsuit, the group is challenging the process used by the EMA for granting a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for first phase of the project between Cumuto and Guaico. The five km segment is estimated to cost $400 million.
The group claims the process was procedurally flawed and failed to consider alternative routes for the project which would have less impact on the environment and existing communities.
The group is contending the construction works, started on January 8, has already infringed on the Aripo Savannah’s forest reserve, which was declared an environmentally sensitive area by the EMA in 2007.
The EMA had set a buffer zone between the south border of the reserve and the project, which FFOS was claiming was breached during preliminary clearing work.
The reserve consists of 1,780 hectares of land which is home to over 500 species of plants, including seven rare species and two endemic grasses as well the endangered ocelot. 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.
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