By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Environmental activists yesterday launched their long-threatened legal action over the persistent oil pollution plaguing Clifton Pier, warning that the situation was “damaging the economic prosperity” of the Bahamas.
Save the Bays, in the latest chapter of its ‘crusade’ to right environmental wrongs, is seeking Supreme Court permission to bring a Judicial Review action against three Cabinet minister and the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) for allegedly failing in their “statutory duty” to prevent the latter’s pollution of southwestern New Providence.
The action, which names Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis; Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment; and Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the attorney-general, as respondents, is seeking a Supreme Court declaration that all three have failed in their legal duties to force BEC to ‘clean up its act’ and prevent further oil pollution.
A November 18, 2015, report produced for Save the Bays by the Freeport-based environmental consultants, Envirologic International, concluded that oil contamination from BEC’s Clifton Pier Power Plant and associated facilities “has been ongoing for at least 15 years and appears to be worsening over time”.
The report said the pollution stemmed from the “seepage” of oil-related hydrocarbons into the water from the rocks along the power plant’s shoreline, plus the “comingling” of hydrocarbons in BEC’s cooling water discharges and storm water drainage.
Although the Bahamas has no applicable regulations or standards, Envirologic’s report said the petroleum hydrocarbon content in both surface water and “near shore sediment” at the Clifton Pier power plant “greatly exceed” the benchmarks set by Florida.
“Analyses of the petroleum hydrocarbon contamination showed it to consist of 75 per cent diesel and 25 per cent residual fuel oil,” Envirologic said. “Little, if any, jet fuel was present.”
Save the Bays is thus alleging that the three Cabinet ministers, and Melony McKenzie, director of environmental health services, have failed to meet their obligations under both the Environmental Health Services Act (EHSA) and Electricity Act in terms of preventing, and cleaning up, BEC’s pollution.
And the environmental activist group is warning that the current situation, if allowed to continue, will have a devastating effect on the environment that the Bahamas relies upon heavily to attract tourists and stimulate economic activity.
A previous study by the Bahamas National Trust found that diving activities off southwestern New Providence, the area where the BEC plant is located, generated an annual $75.2 million economic impact in attracting some 70,000 visitors annually.
The pollution is also in close proximity to the Clifton Heritage Park, and has threatened both the Adelaide community and upscale Albany development when the tide has moved oil in their direction.
Sam Duncombe, founder of fellow environmental group reEarth, alleged in an affidavit accompanying yesterday’s Judicial Review filing that the group had repeatedly warned the Government that the potential economic and environmental damage made it imperative that urgent action be taken.
Fred Smith, Save the Bays legal director, in a June 18, 2015, letter to Mr Dorsett, warned: “In light of the frequent oil spills and leakages that have afflicted, and continue to afflict, the Clifton Pier area, the Government is failing to meet its duties under the EHSA to provide for - and ensure - the consideration and maintenance of the Bahamian environment.
“This failure is having a devastating impact on the rare and irreplaceable marine and terrestrial environment surrounding the islands of The Bahamas, endangering the health of the public, undermining the livelihood of a number of Bahamians, and damaging the economic prosperity of the country as a whole.”
Backing Mr Smith’s assessment, Mrs Duncombe alleged yesterday: “Tourists flock to the Bahamas because it is an area of great natural beauty. The destruction of that beauty by, and the consequent infringement of tourists’ enjoyment (as evidenced by the photographs set out in the Envirologic Report, because of oil spills is a great tragedy both for the Bahamas, its people and its tourist industry
“Indeed, the knock-on effects on the Bahamian economy are all the more serious where news of such oil spills, and their impact on the natural environment, can be disseminated with such ease on a range of social media platforms.
“Potential tourists are able to see clearly and quickly the damage which these events are doing, and continue to do, to our marine and terrestrial environments.”
Mrs Duncombe added that Stuart Cove, principal of Stuart Cove Bahamas, had repeatedly warned “how disastrous oil slicks can be for his business” during interviews with Tribune Business and elsewhere.
“At various times during 2013, 2014 and 2015, I personally, and various other directors of Save The Bays, at times all together and at other times individually, or with several of the other directors, including Robert Kennedy, Matt McCoy, Stuart Cove, Troy Albury, M. Joseph Darville and Frederick Smith, QC, conducted scuba dives and/or snorkelled in and around the waters off the Clifton Pier Power Plant, and/or in the underwater and underground cave systems under the Clifton Pier Power Plan, and observed for themselves the oil pollution complained of,” Mrs Duncombe alleged.
Referring to promises by Mr Davis that a maximum $20 million of the proposed $600 million Rate Reduction Bond (RRB) offering will be employed to clean up BEC’s legacy pollution and environmental liabilities, Mrs Duncombe suggested this was likely another “empty” promise of Government action.
“The Coalition’s view is that this reference to remediation is yet another empty announcement by BEC/the Government to follow those made by BEC in June and September 2013, and by the Prime Minister, minister for the environment and attorney general in January and February 2015, all of which have come to nothing whilst all the time toxic oil seeps and is discharged daily into the sea and groundwater,” Mrs Duncombe alleged.