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Work stops again
Less than three days after the Ministry of Works and Transport was given the all clear to resume work on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla, environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has obtained another injunction halting the project for a second time.
Appellate Court judge Peter Rajkumar yesterday granted the injunction as he deemed the FFOS’s appeal, over the decision of High Court judge Kevin Ramcharan to strike out its case on Tuesday, as urgent.
The injunction will last at least until early March, when Rajkumar would determine if FFOS has raised sufficient grounds in its appeal to warrant it being granted leave. If the group is granted leave then the appeal will be heard by a three-member panel of the Appeal Court.
Under the terms of the injunction, the project’s contractor Kall Co is only allowed to continue surveying the construction site and removed trees which have already been felled under the permission of the Forestry Division.
The ministry’s lawyers attempted to have the injunction varied to allow the continued construction of an access road to the site as done by Ramcharan when he first granted an interim injunction, when the work began early last month.
Rajkumar refused after FFOS attorneys pointed out that the road would infringe on the buffer zone between the proposed route and the Aripo Savannas, the designated environmentally sensitive area which FFOS is claiming is under threat by the construction.
FFOS is appealing Ramcharan’s decision 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 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. 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 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 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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