It costs taxpayers $10 million for every week construction on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla is delayed, according to the Ministry of Works and Transport and the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) – the developers of the highway.
Attorney Ian Benjamin, who represents the ministry and Nidco in a legal challenge by the group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) against the construction of the highway, said there was adverse economic impact by preventing the development.
He said there were also negative economic impacts to surrounding communities.
“And it goes beyond the dollar figure,” Benjamin said, as he urged Justice Kevin Ramcharan against granting the FFOS permission to pursue its case against the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).
The group claims that the highway construction has threatened the Aripo Savannas - an EMA-designated environmentally sensitive area (ESA).
The FFOS has also challenged the decision by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to issue a certificate of environmental clearance (CEC) to the Ministry of Works for a 5,000-metre highway from the Cumuto Main Road to Guaico Trace in Sangre Grande.
In its lawsuit, FFOS contends the CEC is “unreasonable, illegal, procedurally improper, irrational, null and void and of no effect.”
Benjamin echoed the arguments of the EMA’s lead attorney, Deborah Peake, SC, that the FFOS’ legal challenge was not supported by evidence.
Peake said the FFOS, as a self-described public-spirited organisation, chose not to participate in the public consultations and provided no justification for the delay in bringing their challenge to the CEC approval.
“They failed to participate in the process and brings a late challenge,” she said.
She said the “leisurely approach” of the FFOS in coming to the court for relief was detrimental to the public’s interest, so too the grant of leave. She said if permission was to be given to the FFOS there would be substantial prejudice to the developer and the public’s interests in the project.
“This is not a slipper box drain contract. This is the construction of a five-kilometre highway.”
Peake also reminded that not only will the contractor’s rights be affected by a stop to the construction, but also other third-parties.
In her arguments, Peake urged the judge not to usurp the role of the EMA, which she said was the particular agency mandated by the Parliament to protect the environment.
Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who represents KallCo, acknowledged that any project the size of the Manzanilla highway would have an impact on flora and fauna.
“There is going to be an impact. But you cannot say there can be no development. That is the purpose of the EMA, to set down standards. We all have to trust that they are going to do their job in a project of this sort,” he said.
He also pointed to the “great lengths” the EMA had taken to ensure the protection of the environment.
Submissions continued into last night and up until that time the temporary injunction, which had been granted preventing substantial work from being done on the highway, remained in place.
The judge has indicated that he will give his decision at a later date.