On Monday March 26th, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) had their request for judicial review on the authorisation of a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) issued by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) dismissed by the Trinidad & Tobago Court of Appeals. Once again the Aripo Savannas a designated Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) is under threat as construction of the Roosevelt Highway To Manzanilla may now continue.
In response, the FFOS released a statement on their Facebook page which reads,
“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 every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.”
However, this isn’t the end. FFOS plans to appeal the ruling in England before the Privy Council. This was said in the same statement on their Facebook page,
“FFOS will be urgently seeking leave to go before the Privy Council in England to appeal this judgement as we strongly believe in the merits of our case.”
Cumuto to Sangre Grande Highway
The Cumuto to Sangre Grande highway segment is a part of the National Highways program, which would connect the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway into Sangre Grande. There’s just one problem, The Cumuto to Sangre Grande highway segment would be built in proximity to the Aripo Savannas. In 1934 the Long Stretch Forest which contains the Aripo Savannas was proclaimed a Reserve. In 1980 the area was proposed as a Scientific Reserve and in 1987 the Savannas was declared a Prohibited Area under Trinidad & Tobago’s Forests Act.
The Ministry of Works & Transport and National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) submitted their plan on constructing the Cumuto to Sangre Grande highway segment to the EMA. Since the Aripo Savannas has special status the EMA had a team of technical advisers review the plan. However, the technical advisers found that the proposed plan did not address the Riparian (riparian areas link water to land) Areas Regulation (RAR) satisfactorily and advised against the issuing of a CEC.
TV6TNT Obtained documents
In a news segment titled “CEC AND HIGHWAY CONTROVERSY“, TV6TNT obtained documents revealing the technical teams concerns.
Permanent Secretary Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Vidiah Ramkhelawan had said,
“To date a proper baseline assessment has not been conducted. Such an assessment forms the basis of any environmental impacts assessment. I do not agree that a CEC should be issued for this project at this time since the majority of issues highlighted by the first RAR have not been addressed satisfactorily by the applicant.”
A summary of decision outlining issues as to why a CEC should not be granted was almost kept from public view. Managing director Hayden Romano had instructed staff not to release the summary of decision for public review.
“The managing Director instructed that the document not be subjected to public review. Based on the nature and location of the project, as well as public interest, I strongly disagree with this decision/instruction.”
Vidiah Ramkhelawan continued,
“…regarding the scope and design of the project remain outstanding. […] this did not follow proper processing procedure, which is supported by the technical review as well as the timeline was unrealistic.”
Assistant Manager Technical Services of the Environmental Management Authority Jiselle Joseph said,
“It is highly irregular and unprecedented to issue a determination for a CEC application for which there are significant outstanding concerns to be addressed…”
Environmental compliance specialist Lanalisa Jackson-George said,
“This is indeed an unusual position being taken by the EMA should a CEC be issued…much of the assessment that should have taken place during the CEC application phase is now ‘conditioned’ into the CEC.”
Environmental Management Authority Legal Officer Maurice Wishart also said,
“The inescapable conclusions that the minimum requirement to proceed to issue a CEC in the instant matter does not exist. The authority would be hard pressed to justify the decision making process utilised. The authority’s action in issuing the CEC is open to legal challenge. In the circumstances, to adopt a course of action to issue a CEC is not advisable.”
The EMA’s chairman Mrs. Nadra Nathai-Gyan and several other directors signed off on the CEC, despite strong objections from within the EMA.
Fishermen and Friends of the Sea Fight to Protect the Aripo Savannas
On September 26th, 2017, at the sod turning ceremony Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley announced the awarding of the $400 million dollar contract to local contracting company Kall Co.
on September 29th, 2017, FFOS filed an application of leave for judicial review (a procedure by which a court can review an administrative action by a public body and secure a declaration, order, or award) of the granting of a CEC by the EMA for the Cumuto to Sangre Grande highway segment.
Timeline of court proceedings
Over the last several months FFOS has been engaged in an ongoing legal battle with lawyers representing the Environmental Management Authority, Ministry of Works and Transport, and Kall Co; seeking a leave for judicial review.
January 8th, 2018
Heavy equipment arrived in preparation for construction. A statement from the FFOS on their Facebook page dated January 15th, 2018, had said,
“heavy earth works machinery including several bulldozers, excavators and road preparation equipment have arrived at the Southern Boundary of the Aripo Savannas to commence construction works on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway extension from Cumuto to Sangre Grande.”
Several images were uploaded to the groups Facebook page,
January 17th, 2018
FFOS obtained a temporary injunction until January 22nd, 2018 from the High Court of Trinidad & Tobago, granted by Justice Kevin Ramcharan.
The temporary injunction would block any further construction on the highway. However, Kall Co would still be able to survey, construct a site office, and remove any previously felled logs with permission from the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture.
January 19th, 2018
An image on the FFOS Facebook group appeared with the comment,
“There is an encroachment into the Aripo Savannas and degradation of this protected Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA).”
January 22nd, 2018
The temporary injunction previously granted to the FFOS was extended until January 23rd, 2018, again by Justice Kevin Ramcharan. The reason given by Justice Kevin Ramcharan for the extension was that of preserving the matter of a judicial review.
The temporary injunction had also been amended, allowing Kall Co to continue construction on an access road.
January 24th, 2018
Justice Kevin Ramcharan reserved his decision until February 6th, 2018. This came after many hours of listening to both parties present their case. Justice Ramcharan said he would need time to consider the issue. The temporary injunction granted would stay in place.
February 6th, 2018
Justice Kevin Ramcharan delivered a written decision refusing FFOS leave for judicial review of the EMA’s decision to approve the project. The temporary injunction was automatically dismissed and construction on the highway could commence once again.
Ramcharan ruled the lawsuit brought by the FFOS against the EMA’s granting of a CEC to the ministry was filed outside the statutory limit of three months.
Ramcharan also ruled that all 14 grounds brought by FFOS would be unrealistic to have any success if taken to trial. The allegations would hold no merit as the EMA’s board had only to consider the opinion of the technical team before making a final decision.
Justice Ramcharan then ordered that FFOS pay the legal costs incurred by Kall Co during the request for a judicial review.
Aware of the potential outcome the FFOS had already prepared an appeal. After the case was adjourned, FFOS filed their appeal and a hearing was set for February 7th, 2018.
February 7th, 2018
FFOS appealed the decision by High Court Judge Kevin Ramcharan to dismiss their request for a judicial review challenging the process used by the EMA to grant a CEC for the construction of the Roosevelt Highway To Manzanilla. FFOS claims that Ramcharan should have used his discretion to extend the time limit due to the public interest in the case
Upon listening to submissions Appellate Judge Peter Rajkumar issued a 24-hour injunction preventing Kall Co from continuing its work on the highway. The Court of Appeals would use this time to deliberate issuing a longer injunction in favour of FFOS upon the outcome of their appeal.
February 8th, 2018
Appellate Judge Peter Rajkumar was expected to deliver his decision in the granting of a longer interim injunction to FFOS pending the outcome of their appeal in the dismissal of their lawsuit. However, Appellate Judge Rajkumar said he needed more time to deliberate, due to the large amount of material he had to go over. When lawyers representing Kall Co and the Ministry of Works and Transport were unwilling to give an undertaking for one day, Appellate Judge Rajkumar was forced to grant another temporary injunction.
February 9th, 2018
Court of Appeals Appellate Judge Peter Rajkumar granted FFOS a full injunction, effectively blocking Kall Co from any work on the Roosevelt highway. FFOS also had their appeal deemed fit for urgent hearing.
March 20th, 2018
The Court of Appeal heard submissions from Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, Environmental Management Authority, Ministry of Works and Transport, and Kall Co. FFOS appealed the High Court’s decision to refuse a judicial review on the authorisation of a CEC by the EMA to construct a highway from Cumuto to Sangre Grande on the southern boundary of the Aripo Savannas, and to lift the interim injunction which had been previously obtained.
March 22nd, 2018
Three Appellate Judges of the Court of Appeals reserved their ruling on FFOS appeal in requesting a judicial review of the EMA’s granting of a CEC to the Ministry of Works and Transport. The temporary injunction would stay in place while Appellate Judge Gregory Smith, Appellate Judge Judith Jones, and Appellate Judge Andre des Vignes deliberate the fate of FFOS claim.
Aripo Savannas Currently
FFOS lawyer Anand Ramlogan had made an oral application for an interim injunction while a final appeal for judicial review is made with the United Kingdom’s Privy Council. The Appellate Judges denied Ramlogan the interim injunction and advised him to reapply when his application for conditional leave to the Privy Council comes up for hearing once again before another appeal panel.
After months of delays, Kall Co now has full authority to continue construction of the Cumuto to Sangre Grande highway segment on the southern border of the Aripo Savannas.
Sources used to to help write this article.