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Appeal Court strikes out highway lawsuit
The Appeal Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) paving the way for construction of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway extension to near the environmentally sensitive Aripo Savannas to continue.
In a written ruling, Appellate Judges Gregory Smith, Andre Des Vignes and Charmaine Pemberton agreed that the challenge of the Environmental Management Authority process in granting a Certificate of Environmental Clearance had been filed outside of the three-month statutory limit.
The ruling stated that the court felt that there was no justification for extending the time limit, as such a move would impact the rights of third parties, including the Ministry of Works and Transport and contractor Kallco, and that would be detrimental to good administration.
Kallco was awarded the contract for the first phase of the project between Cumuto and Guaico. The 5 km segment is estimated to cost $400 million.
While the judges agreed that there was undue delay in filing the case, they had a difference of opinion on the merits of the complaints raised by the FFOS.
Smith claimed that the group’s challenge on the public consultations for the terms and reference of the CEC and the EMA’s assessment of the impact of the project were arguable, but Des Vignes and Pemberton disagreed as they failed to find merit in any of the 14 complaints raised by the group.
“Even though I am of the view that there are merits, they are not strong enough to overrule and bypass the public policy considerations,” Smith said.
Immediately after the judgment was delivered, the group’s lawyer Anand Ramlogan, SC, made an oral application for an interim injunction pending his client’s application for conditional leave to file a final appeal with the United Kingdom-based Privy Council.
Ramlogan claimed that the injunction was essential as the resumption of construction would cause irreversible environmental damage to the flora and fauna of the Aripo Savannas forest reserve, which bounds the proposed route.
The group had previously received interim injunctions from High Court judge Kevin Ramcharan and the Appeal Court, which only allowed for minor work while the judicial review lawsuit and corresponding appeal were being determined.
Ramlogan’s application was strongly opposed by the ministry’s lawyer Ian Benjamin, who claimed that the group was entitled to apply for the injunction in December, last year, but chose to do so one week after the project commenced on January 8.
He stated that the lawsuit had already cost the State millions of dollars and had derailed the project, which was initially expected to be completed in 10 months.
“We already had substantial delays and very few concessions. The project involves the expenditure of scarce public resources and this inflicts a financial burden on the public purse for which there is nothing to show,” Benjamin said.
The Appellate Judges agreed with Benjamin and advised Ramlogan to reapply when his application for conditional leave to the Privy Council, comes up for hearing before another appeal panel. The application is expected to be filed this morning.
FFOS was also represented by Jayanti Lutchmedial, Alvin Pariagsingh and Robert Abdool-Mitchell. Deborah Peake, SC, and Ravi Heffes-Doon represented the EMA, while Kallco was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, and Devesh Maharaj.
In a statement, after the ruling the group stated: “FFOS is deeply disappointed by today’s ruling. We are determined, however, to explore all legal means of recourse to protect this natural heritage site which belongs to all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. FFOS will be urgently seeking leave to go before the Privy Council in England to appeal this judgment as we strongly believe in the merits of our case. FFOS will persevere until ecological and environmental justice is served for the voiceless communities of the Aripo Savannas.”
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