Work on Caribbean island airport halted by court ruling
Critics say airport and resort would do more ecological harm to Barbuda than Hurricane Irma
Ahigh court has suspended all construction work on a controversial airport development on the unspoilt Caribbean island of Barbuda that residents say will devastate its fragile ecosystem.
Antigua and Barbuda high court of justice granted an interim injunction to prevent building work on the airport from continuing during a legal challenge against the territory’s government over the international airport development.
The Barbudans who brought the case, John Mussington, a school principal and marine biologist, and Jacklyn Frank, a social worker, welcomed the court’s decision. They are being represented by Leslie Thomas QC, a London-based lawyer at Garden Court chambers, who also represents some of the survivors and bereaved relatives at the Grenfell inquiry.
The injunction was granted after the case was lodged outlining concerns about environmental damage that Mussington and Frank believe the project will cause. Internal documents used by their legal team revealed that the authorities had been warned about ecological as well as archaeological risks.
A full judicial review of the case will be heard on 26 September. Thomas said: “This is the first time the Barbudans are going to get real answers to some of their burning questions on the airport development. It is just a pity it had to be with the threat of the court armed with an interim injunction”.
The islanders complain that the work to bulldoze forests in preparation for the construction work got under way when residents were evacuated from the island during Hurricane Irma.
There are formidable interests hoping to do business on the island if the challenge fails. The Hollywood actor Robert De Niro has a stake in a company, Paradise Found Nobu Resort, that plans to build a large luxury tourist resort there.
Thomas argued that Barbuda’s extraordinary habitat – turquoise sea, white sand and magnificent coral reefs as well as fallow deer, red-footed tortoises and many rare birds – would be at risk of significant damage if the development goes ahead.
Mussington says Barbudans have been careful custodians of the island’s fragile ecosystem for generations. They have made a living from sustainable fishing and export of lobster along with low-key tourism. Until now the island has escaped over-development and has been regarded as the ideal destination for travellers seeking quiet and tranquillity.
“People on the island were shocked and devastated. They broke down crying when they saw that thousands of feet of pristine forest had been torn apart to make way for the new airstrip,” said Mussington.
Fears over the impact were compounded by the fact that the initial area bulldozed was abandoned after it was discovered that caves lay underneath the proposed airstrip.
The legal challenge cited a review of the airport plan by the country’s Department of Environment dated 4 December 2017, which warned that “many of the negative environmental impacts have already occurred in the absence of an environmental management or mitigation plan”.