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Judge mulls over appeal decision in highway lawsuit
The resumption of work on the Churchill- Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla remains in limbo as an Appeal Court judge continues to mull over whether environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) should be given an injunction pending the determination of its appeal against the dismissal of its lawsuit.
Appellate judge Peter Rajkumar was expected to rule on the issue yesterday but stated he needed additional time due to the large quantity of submissions presented before him between Wednesday and yesterday evening.
Rajkumar was forced to grant a temporary injunction as lawyers for the Ministry of Works and Transport and contractor Kall Co were unwilling to give an undertaking that it would halt work on the project for another day, as done during the first hearing on Wednesday.
Rajkumar informed attorneys that he would endeavour to deliver the ruling by 3 pm today but that the injunction would continue if he is unable to meet the deadline.
In addition to deciding on a longer interim injunction, Rajkumar has to decide whether the FFOS should be granted a urgent hearing of its appeal.
FFOS is appealing a decision by High Court judge Kevin Ramcharan to dismiss their judicial review lawsuit challenging the process used by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for the project.
As a result of his decision to refuse FFOS leave to pursue its claim, the interim injunction which he granted when construction work began, last month, was automatically discharged.
Ramcharan’s decision was largely based on the fact that 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 the CEC on June 22, it filed it exactly three months after it learned of the CEC on July 6.
FFOS are claiming that Ramcharan should have used his discretion to extend the time limit due to the public interest in the case.
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 it they were eventually taken to trial.
Ramcharan also stated that he felt the EMA has followed the required process before granting the CEC.
About the Highway
In the lawsuit, the group is challenging the process used by the EMA for granting a CEC for first phase of the project between
Cumuto and Guaico. The 5 km segment is estimated to cost $400 million.
It was 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.
The group is contending that the construction works, which commenced on January 8, has already infringed on the Aripo Savannas forest reserve, which was declared an environmentally sensitive area by the EMA in 2007.
The reserve consists of 1,780 hectares of land which is home over 500 species of plants including seven rare species and two 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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