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Judge grants injunction stopping highway project

Published: 
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Fishermen and Friends of the Sea secretary Gary Aboud (second from right) leaves the Hall of Justice with his lawyers (left to right) Ganesh Saroop, Robert Abdool-Mitchell, Jayanti Lutchmedial and Anand Ramlogan, SC, after obtaining an interim injunction blocking construction of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway Extension to Manzanilla.

Environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has obtained an interim injunction barring the Government from continuing work on the first phase of the $400M Churchill Roosevelt Highway Extension to Manzanilla.

Justice Kevin Ramcharan granted the injunction, which will expire on Monday, during a hearing in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday.

FFOS had applied for the emergency injunction late Monday, however, Ramcharan could not determine the case immediately as he and the other parties served with the court documents were unable to read the filings in time.

In the lawsuit filed in September, last year, the group is challenging the process used by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for granting a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for the 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 area, known as the Aripo Savannas, and to existing communities.

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

In addition to the FFOS’s lawsuit, concerns have been raised over Government’s decision to award the first phase of the project to Kall Co.

Ramcharan asked attorneys for the Ministry of Works and Transport and the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) if they were willing to consent to stop the work until the substantive injunction application is heard and determined, next Monday. They refused.

Noting that he was not pre-determining the issue, Ramcharan said the interim injunction would help protect the subject matter of the FFOS’s claim.

Under the injunction, Kall Co is only allowed to continue to survey 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.

Presenting submissions on behalf of the group, former attorney general Anand Ramlogan SC claimed that over one kilometre had been cleared since the works began on January 8.

He stated that the works were causing irreparable damage to a forested area, which is home to dozens of species including the endangered ocelot.

“Each passing hour leaves a trail of rampant massacre and destruction of the environment,” Ramlogan said.

Head of the State’s legal team Deborah Peake, SC called upon Ramcharan to disregard the application as she pointed out that the deadline for filing for an injunction set by him had expired.

She also noted that Ramcharan still had to determine whether FFOS should be granted leave to pursue its substantive lawsuit against the highway project.

In response, Ramlogan said his client could not have applied before as Nidco and the ministry had repeatedly said that there were delays in the project.

“It would be rather strange would make such an order to file an application for an injunction restraining something that has not yet occurred,” Ramlogan said.

FFOS is also being represented by Jayanti Lutchmedial, Alvin Pariagsingh and Robert Abdool-Mitchell.

The State is also being represented by Ian Benjamin and Ravi Heffes-Doon.

About Aripo Savannas

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

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

Nidco’s response

Nidco last night stated that it was confident that it had complied with all statutory regulations before embarking on the construction of the highway.

It also denied claims by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) over the potential environmental impact of the project.

“The construction of the said highway does not in any way encroach upon the Savannas as is being asserted in some quarters. NIDCO has and continues to act as a responsible State agency and will abide by the terms of the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) granted by the EMA as seeks to improve the lives of all our citizens,” it said.

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