The BVI News reports that Justice Indra Hariprashad-Charles has handed the Environmental group VIEC (the Virgin Islands Environmental Counsel) a victory in their legal battle to declare illegal the previous government’s decision to approve a five-star hotel, marina, and golf course on a a fisheries protected area of Beef Island – Hans Creek. In handing down her decision, Hariprashad-Charles stated, “Having found that Hans Creek is a fisheries protected area, it follows that the approval letter issued by the Minister on January 31, 2007 is void for illegality.” The previous government’s decision to approve the resort had stirred controversy among many environmental groups in the territory, with the most vocal being the Virgin Islands Environmental Counsel (VIEC).
The two-year legal battle began in July 2007 when VIEC, a group of concerned fisherfolk and residents, filed an application in the High Court seeking judicial review of the Jan 2007 decision by former Chief Minister, Hon D Orlando Smith granting planning approval to Quorum Island BVI Limited. Justice Charles ruled that Hans Creek is a Fisheries Protected area within the meaning of the Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Regulations provides that no development activity can take place which may or is likely to adversely affect a fisheries protected area. Any contravention of the Regulations is an offence under the law. Since certain aspects of the proposed development activity are certain to adversely affect the protected area, the planning approval is thereby rendered illegal.
In its response to the legal decision VIEC made clear that this victory does not prohibit all future development on Beef Island – however it does make it significantly more difficult for a scheme that is detrimental to the environment to be approved. The developer has the right to resubmit a proposal for planning approval and the Government has the power to grant approval for a suitable scheme that respects the environmental laws of the BVI. Accordingly, as long as the land remains privately owned, it is possible for the Government to approve the construction of a large hotel and exclusive residential community and even a marina depending on where and how it is constructed.
VIEC Director, Quincy Lettsome noted that “it was a hard fought battle and a meaningful victory indeed”. Directors Sheila Schulterbrandt and Richard DeCastro declared themselves pleased and elated with the results in the BVI’s first environmental case for several reasons: “First, in establishing that there are laws and procedures in place for the protection of the Virgin Islands environment and these laws should be observed by all, especially the Government. Second, we are proud because this is the first time Virgin Islanders and residents have come together as a group to take such a public stand on an environmental issue, and in this instance the people’s position has been vindicated by the court. Third, the ruling sets an example for others throughout the Caribbean that they can be heard when challenging these types of ecologically destructive mega-developments.” As Mumta Ito, Solicitor for VIEC who has been advising the charity since the outset of the case explains, “This landmark victory for the VIEC is a tremendous step forward for environmental justice in the BVI and the Caribbean as a whole. It clearly demonstrates that the system supports citizens to effectively take action in the public interest and shows that the judiciary are impartial in their analysis.”
For the complete reports go to http://www.bvinews.com/all_news/environment/7683.html and http://www.bvinews.com/court/7700.html