By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A senior official has effectively admitted that the Government was told by its attorneys to issue the contested Bimini dredging permit because it was essential to combat the legal challenge to the Resorts World cruise terminal project.
Charles Zonicle, deputy director of physical planning, alleged in an affidavit filed at the weekend that the dredging permit was issued on May 22 - eight days after Resorts World’s contractor began work - to “remove any doubts about the approvals granted”.
And Mr Zonicle also alleged it was “not necessary” to advertise the permit’s issuance, and give project opponents an opportunity to challenge it, because the Bimini Blue Coalition was already seeking to block the Resorts World project through the courts.
Both these assertions were seized upon in the Supreme Court yesterday by the Bimini Blue Coalition’s lead attorney, who said the May 22 issuance of a dredging permit under the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act 1997 was a tacit admission by the developers and the Government that the proper approvals were not in place at the time dredging started.
And Fred Smith QC, in submissions before Justice Hartman Longley, said the Coalition “takes issue” with Mr Zonicle’s assertion that there had been sufficient public consultation in compliance with the 1997 Act’s Section 8.
For the deputy physical planning chief, in his affidavit, confirmed Tribune Business’s revelations on Monday that it was the Government’s London-based QC that called for the proper dredging permit to be issued and produced before the Privy Council.
“In light of certain legal challenges made to the approvals granted, and on considered legal advice, it was decided that the permit for the dredging should be issued by the director of physical planning under the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act to remove any doubts about the approvals granted,” Mr Zonicle alleged.
“This was done by the permit issued by me, as the acting director of physical planning, on May 22, 2014.”
Mr Smith hammered away at the ‘permit issue’, and its late grant, in the Supreme Court yesterday, In particular, he noted that while both the Government and Resorts World had argued before the Court of Appeal that a dredge permit under the Conservation Act was not required for the latter’s contractor to start work, they had effectively ‘changed their tune’ at the Privy Council hearing.
“Overnight, while the Privy Council appeal and injunction application was being heard, a Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act permit was procured,” Mr Smith alleged.
“The Privy Council expressed concern about the validity of the permit, whether the director of physical planning had had an opportunity to consider it properly, the requirement to consider whether to advertise and whether the conditions attached thereto were satisfied.”
And he further alleged that the permit’s issuance showed the Government and developers had breached their Court of Appeal undertaking not to dredge without the necessary permits.
“It is a further admission that the dredging has been conducted illegally and in breach of the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act and other laws,” Mr Smith claimed.
Mr Zonicle, though, defended the position of his boss, director of physical planning Michael Major, by stating that the latter had been part of “numerous inter-agency meetings and consultations” to review Resorts World Bimini’s plans its controversial 4.5 acre cruise terminal island and 1,000 foot jetty.
Mr Zonicle alleged that these meetings were held as the Docks Committee, with representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the director of Lands and Surveys, the Port Controller, the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission and Building Control Officer all present.
Mr Major was said to have been “aware of all the documentations and issues raised” over the Resorts World project, and to have been provided with the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP).
Mr Zonicle alleged that he reviewed all the files and documents seen by Mr Major before the permit was granted, and argued that the consultation provisions in the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act had been complied with.
“I addressed my mind to section eight of the Act, and considered that there had been sufficient public notice of the application, and that interested persons wishing to object had been given an opportunity to do so, in light of the public legal challenge which had been made by the [Coalition] to the approvals on behalf of persons opposed to the development,” Mr Zonicle alleged.
He added that the Coalition’s Judicial Review challenge, together with its May 8 letter lodging objections to any dredging permits being granted, had fulfilled the Act’s requirements.
With the director of physical planning having considered the Coalition’s objections, Mr Zonicle alleged: “Accordingly, having [put] my mind to the question of whether it was necessary to advertise to allow any interested persons to lodge objections to the granting of a permit, I determined that it was not necessary to do so.”
Again, this assertion was met by a full-blooded challenge from Mr Smith at the Supreme Court in Freeport yesterday. He added that while a dredging permit application was made in December 2013 in the name of a Resorts World entity, BB Entertainment, the May 22 document was issued in the name of RAV Bahamas, the Capo Group subsidiary that is its joint venture partner.
“Charles Zonicle gives evidence that consultation occurred but misses the point that there was no application to dredge 870,000 yards, it was not in accordance with the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act and nor was it informed and or adequate or proper consultation,” Mr Smith alleged, noting that the department of physical planning never replied to the Coalition’s letters.