AN injunction stopping the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) from continuing work on the Shirvan/Store Bay Local Connector Road remains in place until July 6.
On May 26, Justice Frank Seepersad granted the ex-parte injunction to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), which complained, in an emergency application, that it had not granted the requisite approvals to start roadwork there.
On Wednesday, at a virtual hearing, Seepersad said he was not prepared to discharge the injunction at this time, but asked the parties if there was room for compromise.
The judge made the enquiry after the EMA’s lead attorney, Ian Benjamin, SC, said this was not an attempt to thwart progress and development on the island, but rather to ensure compliance with the laws of the land.
Benjamin said the EMA was ready to receive the THA’s application for a certificate of environmental clearance (CEC).
He was responding to submissions from the THA’s lead attorney, Larry Lalla, SC, who pointed to the THA Act and the Constitution, which, he said, gave the assembly the power to implement policy.
“It is debatable if the EMA is acting on statutory authority as it relates to work done by the THA in Tobago.
“That is an issue to be addressed frontally, and was not featured in the arguments for this ex-parte injunction.
However, Benjamin maintained that the EMA did look at the THA Act and the Constitution and neither gave the assembly or its contractor an exemption from following the law.
“Our position is: Do you have a CEC application? No? Well, we are waiting on it. We will deal with it expeditiously.
“We are not trying to thwart anyone other than disobedience to the law of the land. That is why we sent people there to make those inquiries and we await this application.”
He said the EMA’s statutory remit was to protect the environment and ensure that if there is to be development, it must be carried out responsibly and in a legal manner.
He also rejected Lalla's submissions on the lack of an undertaking in relation to damages, saying it was not applicable.
In ruling that he will not discharge the injunction at this time, Seepersad said it appeared the crux of the EMA’s complaint was that any proposed work must be done responsibly and in accordance with the law.
He added, “In like measure, the court is entitled to assume that the THA, in the discharge of its statutory mandate, will adhere to principles of good governance, which would inherently demand that all infrastructural and developmental works under its purview which are intended to enhance the lives of citizens of Tobago and are undertaken responsibly and in accordance with the relevant law.
“It is therefore difficult to understand why there is a dispute.”
He said mindful that both sides served the public interest, they should “desire to achieve the same objective, which is planned and responsible progress which accords with the law and all statutory obligations.”
“Why then are you here? Isn't there room for compromise?”
The two sides are to work out a suitable schedule for a trial.
In the meantime, the injunction remains in place so no further work can take place on the road, at least until July 6.
In its complaint, the EMA’s managing director, Hayden Romano, alleged that the THA, either by itself or through the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development, or its contractor, California Stucco Company Ltd, had not applied for a CEC, in breach of the Environmental Management Act and the CEC 2001 order.
Work on the road began on May 8.
It added, “The project entails the clearing and excavating of more than two hectares of vegetated land and once the roadway has been paved the environmental impact would be irreversible and permanent.”
The EMA also said the work was progressing at an accelerated speed.
Also appearing for the THA is attorney Christlyn Moore. Also appearing for the EMA are Maurice Wishart and Tekiya Jorsling.