By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Privy Council in London granted Bimini Blue Coalition’s injunction request yesterday, bringing dredging activities in Bimini to a halt and reversing a decision by the Bahamas Court of Appeal on Monday.
The news comes more than a week after dredging began in Bimini and after months of controversy over the propriety of Resorts World Bimini’s construction of a cruise ship terminal, 1000-pier foot and man-made island in North Bimini.
“Resorts World Bimini has temporarily ceased its dredging operation in accordance with the Privy Council injunction,” Michelle Malcolm, Public Relations officer for Resorts World Bimini, said in a statement to The Tribune yesterday. “We have all permits in hand and will provide the necessary documentation to lift the injunction expeditiously so that we can continue to provide Biminites with jobs, complete the construction of the cruise pier and open the full destination resort that Biminites and tourists alike are looking forward to.”
To restart dredging activities, the developer must now persuade the Bahamas’ Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court that a permit under the Conservation of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act was obtained under proper conditions and consideration from the Director of Physical Planning (DPP) at the Ministry of Environment and Housing.
The Privy Council reached its decision by questioning the validity of a permit the developer produced yesterday that was signed by the DPP on Thursday.
The developer produced the permit despite the government’s legal team’s argument before the Bahamas’ Court of Appeal last week Friday that the permit was unnecessary because the Act does not account for dredging activities, an argument that was supported by two of the three Court of Appeal Justices who rejected the Coalition’s injunction request on Monday.
The Privy Council, however, determined that the Act does speak to dredging activities and that a letter of approval from Prime Minister Perry Christie obtained by the developer did not constitute the necessary permit by law for dredging activities to commence.
The Privy Council questioned whether the permit the developer produced yesterday was obtained in accordance with conditions stipulated in the Act.
Such conditions include that the Director of Physical Planning give permit applications serious consideration and considers objections to a granting of the Act from residents.
The Privy Council’s ruling comes as a judicial review of the RWB project is stayed at the Supreme Court pending the outcome of an appeal challenging a ruling on security for costs.
The Coalition contends that the project will destroy Bimini’s important marine ecosystem.
Coalition attorney Fred Smith praised the Privy Council’s decision yesterday, calling it “seminal” and adding that it vindicates his group’s belief that the Resorts World Bimini project has been shrouded in secrecy by the government and that it has been sanctioned without giving residents a chance to be properly consulted.
“As a lawyer I am thrilled that the rule of law still prevails in the Bahamas and my clients, the Bimini Blue Coalition, are ecstatic that they are finally being given an opportunity to be heard, at least in the courts,” he said. “What this signals to the government and the developers is that people in the Family Islands still have rights and that you should not ride roughshod over their rights. This was a theme echoed in the Wilson City power plant case, in the Guana Cay case and many others. The failure of central government to respect local rights, to preserve a culture, a society, a way of life is a continuing problem that this ruling speaks to.”
“Before you do anything, consult with the stakeholders. This is embedded statutorily in the Subdivision Act, requiring public hearings in advance notice so those affected would have the opportunity to discuss their views.”
“This case is seminal not just for Bimini but for the Bahamas,” he said, adding: “It speaks to the fact that while a case is going on before the court for judicial review, don’t make up things as you go along. Discovery should be made at the start of all judicial review proceedings. This business of hiding permits and producing them as if you’re torturing people has to end. This is not good governance.”
“During the judicial review,” he said, “authorities repeatedly said cooperate with the courts and put all cards on the table so the courts can make quick decisions about matters of public interest. It doesn’t further the government to be secretive, to be obstructive, to hide permits.”
To restart dredging activities in Bimini, Mr Smith said the developer must: “Convince the Court that all the conditions in the permit has been satisfied; that a new EIA has been conducted, for instance.”
He said: “This underscores what I have been saying; these foreign developers could never get away either in Malaysia or Florida with what they could get away with here. They would have to go through city, county, all kinds of protocols.”
Requests for comment from government officials were not acknowledged yesterday.