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Court Approves Legal Action On Clifton Pollution

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Environmental activists have obtained Supreme Court permission to launch their long-threatened legal action over the persistent oil pollution plaguing Clifton Pier, which they believe is “damaging the economic prosperity” of the Bahamas.

Justice Indra Charles last week gave the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay leave to bring Judicial Review proceedings against three Cabinet Ministers and the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), and set March 16 as the date when its applications for an injunction and discovery will be heard.

Justice Charles’ Order, filed yesterday, also stipulated that the Coalition would serve all legal documents filed to-date on the three ‘oil majors’ - Esso Bahamas; Rubis Bahamas; and FOCOL/Sun Oil - plus Commonwealth Brewery within 14 days.

All four companies have major industrial and/or oil storage facilities in the Clifton Pier area, and the Coalition’s skeleton arguments, placed before Justice Charles, alleged that it was “possible” there were other pollution sources besides BEC.

“The Coalition has a very strong prima facie case,” its arguments alleged.

“BEC (and possibly other Clifton Pier businesses) has for some time, and continues to, discharge contaminants into the marine environment at Clifton Pier on a daily basis, and this has been acknowledged by various of the respondents, including BEC itself.”

The ‘respondents’ named in the action include Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis; Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment; and Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the attorney-general.

The Coalition is ultimately 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, pointing out that the contamination it complains of is an offence under section 7 of the Environmental Health Services Act (EHSA).

“There is a well-documented history of oil pollution and contamination in the Clifton pier area over the past 15 years,” the Coalition’s arguments allege.

“In addition to continual seepage and discharge, there have been significant incidents of oil discharge reported in June 2013, September 2014 and October 2014.”

It added: “The oil discharge and pollution problem has been acknowledged by each and all of the respondents, and promises of remediation measures have repeatedly been made.

“It has been accepted that the Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s Clifton Pier Power Station is a source (if not the main source) of the contamination.

“In particular, the Minister for the Environment admitted (October 2014) that fuel was being discharged from BEC’s outfalls, and that BEC containment booms were failing to prevent all the fuel emitted into the marine environment from spreading,” the Coalition continued.

“The repeated promises of remediation have not been kept, and nothing significant has in fact been done to prevent and remediate the ongoing pollution. In the meantime, the contamination is continuing unabated with the attendant risk to public health and the environment.”

The Coalition referred to Mr Dorsett’s October 2014 announcement that Coastal Systems International had been hired to investigate the pollution and provide mitigation recommendations.

Prime Minister Perry Christie then said, in early 2015, that the Government had hired Morgan Oil Bahamas to “extract the oil that is underground”, with BEC to construct a concrete barrier to prevent future leaks.

The Coalition, though, alleged in its skeleton arguments that “no action has been taken beyond containment booms”, based on the work completed by its own environmental consultants, Envirologic.

It added that Envirologic’s two years of work, culminating in its November 2015 report, had revealed that pollution was occurring via BEC’s cooling water discharges into the sea and seepage from the shoreline adjacent to its property.

“The main remediation measures announced by BEC and Government in June and September 2014, and in January and February 2015 (namely, building a barrier/trench and removing the oil) have not been put in place,” the Coalition alleged.

“The other, ‘minimal’, remediation measures in place (namely, containment booms and absorbent pads) have not been effective.”

The Coalition is alleging that the three Cabinet minister ‘respondents’ 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.

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