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'David versus Goliath' fight to save Bahamas reefs
Published on May 28, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

Concerned citizens say the cloud of silt seen trailing away from the mammoth dredger ‘Niccolo Machiavelli’ will settle on Bimini’s pristine coral reefs and suffocate the island’s rich marine ecosystem

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Anxiously awaiting the outcome of a Bahamas Supreme Court hearing on Monday, concerned citizens who oppose a controversial cruise ship terminal project in Bimini issued a heartfelt statement of thanks to advocacy group Save The Bays (STB) for its crucial help and support.

Bimini Blue Coalition (BBC) said there is no way it could have challenged an international conglomerate like Malaysia-based Genting for so long without the invaluable backing and advice of the fast-growing fellow NGO.

“We are a small organization and could not have fought this fight on our own,” said BBC in a statement. “This is truly a David versus Goliath fight and wanted to take this opportunity to thank the thousands around The Bahamas and the world who have given us support, and in particular Save The Bays, which threw its considerable influence, expertise and bravery behind out effort since day one.”

Since its launch just over a year ago, STB has catapulted into the role of champion of environmental causes and fledgling advocacy groups around the country.

It has enjoyed unprecedented growth for an NGO, attracting more than 500 registered members, 14,300 followers on Facebook and 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for a Freedom of Information Act, Environmental Protection Act and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

On Monday, as the Supreme Court in Freeport considered arguments for and against lifting an injunction on dredging in Bimini imposed by the London-based Privy Council, the BBC also issued a special thank-you to attorney and STB director Fred Smith QC, who volunteered his time and energy to lead the legal battle to bring dredging to a halt in Bimini.

“Fred Smith is a godsend. We don’t know what we would have done without him,” said the BBC statement. “He is both a brilliant and resourceful litigator, and a tireless defender of the environment.”

The order to stop all dredging activities, which went into effect immediately last week, was to stay in place until the developers, Genting-owned Resorts World Bimini (RWB), could demonstrate they have satisfied all the conditions for a the granting of a permit under the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act (CPPLB).

Since the start of dredging last month, a number of environmental scientists and dive experts have said the cloud of silt seen trailing away from the mammoth dredger ‘Niccolo Machiavelli’ will settle on Bimini’s pristine coral reefs and suffocate the island’s rich underwater ecosystem, a cruicial nursery for some of the country’s most important fisheries and marine resources.

The developer has said its management plan will prevent environmental fallout, but BBC produced images purporting to show that the silt curtains erected to contain the sediment produced by the dredging have failed.

In giving its ruling, the Privy Council noted that the RWB development was a controversial one, and that the environmental aspects are not ideal.

Lawyers for BBC argued that the dredging was being carried out contrary to the provisions of the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of The Bahamas Act. The position of the developers and government was that the dredging did not fall within the ambit of the Act, which refers to “excavation”.

The Privy Council ruled that contrary to the view of the Court of Appeal in Nassau, which rejected the injunction application, dredging does fall within the meaning of excavation outlined in the act, although not included in the primary definition.

The court also ruled that the approval given by the minister for lands and surveys (Prime Minister Christie) in his capacity as landowner on January 23, 2014, was not a valid permit under the Act.

The Law Lords noted that after asking for and being granted a day’s adjournment, lawyers for the government and developer produced a permit under the Act, dated the day before.

However, that permit can only be issued subject to certain conditions, and even if this were not the case, the court found, there would still be cause for concern.

The lords noted that before granting the permit, the Director of Physical Planning should have listened to objections and taken them into account. Given the last-minute nature of the document, and the lack of evidence as to whether there was compliance with the conditions, a question-mark hangs over its validity, they said.

The court also noted that although the developers only applied for a permit under the Act at the last minute, it can be said in their favor that up until then, Bahamian authorities had told them the document was unnecessary.

The ruling also took into consideration that BBC is not in a position to give an undertaking to pay damages should they lose, while the developer is facing considerable costs per day.

But, the court said, had the injunction not been granted, it would have undermined the underlying judicial review of the entire development, which is currently stayed in the Bahamas Supreme Court pending the outcome of an appeal concerning security costs.

The lords noted that the injunction is not unconnected with the underlying judicial review, and that BBC represents individuals who live and work in Bimini and will be affected by the development.

They also pointed out that Resorts World Bimini can be said to have begun the dredging with their eyes open and at their own risk, as the judicial review was already in place and the developers themselves gave an undertaking not to dredge without permits.
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