Work on Caribbean is­land air­port halted by court rul­ing

Crit­ics say air­port and re­sort would do more eco­log­i­cal harm to Bar­buda than Hur­ri­cane Irma

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

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”.

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