Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that two government agencies breached legal standards for consultation before granting permission for work to begin on the controversial Palisadoes road-improvement project.
The court, however, determined that the agencies - the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) - had properly issued permits, meaning the project would not be brought to a halt.
Environmental lobby Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) had brought the court action seeking judicial review of the decision that allowed permission for the work to begin.
The Supreme Court ruled that the agencies acted improperly as they had granted approval for the Palisadoes road project before disclosing to the public within a reasonable time all environmental information related to the development.
At the time of the second public meeting held on October 4 last year, permission to proceed with the works had already been given by the regulatory bodies.
In handing down judgment, the Supreme Court further ruled that the beach licences and other permits issued by NEPA and NRCA were sufficient to manage the works and protect the environment, once the road was not four or more lanes.
The court upheld NEPA's evidence that the public announcement of four lanes was an error on the part of the Ministry of Transport and Works.
"(The Supreme Court) said NEPA had issued the correct permits, but this has some wider implications, because what the judge found is that although the Beach Control Act speaks to the foreshore under a certain section of the Beach Control Act, NEPA can in fact include adjacent lands," said Diana McCaulay, executive director of JET, hours after Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Straw handed down her ruling.
McCaulay said based on the judge's ruling, by issuing a beach control licence on Palisadoes, it was enough to control developments on areas outside the foreshore.
"We are actually very happy to hear that because it has implications for other places where NEPA is claiming they have no jurisdiction such as Blue Lagoon and Pellow Island," McCaulay said. "They (NEPA) are saying in those cases that their jurisdiction extends only to the foreshore. Now this judgment is saying that their jurisdiction extends to adjacent properties under the Beach Control Act."
She said the regulatory authority must abide by the ruling, and pointed out that it was not the first time there had been an adverse ruling against NEPA for breaching the consultative process.
Regarding the second aspect of the lawsuit, McCaulay said for the first time there has been a clear ruling by the courts about how to "deal with, what kinds of permits should be issued, and what the extent of the Beach Control Act covers when it concerns work like what was done on Palisadoes".
However, Robert Collie, NEPA's director of legal services, told The Gleaner last night that the agency has been granted leave to appeal the decision.
Collie noted that had the court sided with JET on the permit matter, the project would have been stopped.
"What we are saying is that it represents a vindication of NEPA's position that the licences and permit that it granted were lawfully and rationally granted … and serve to prove adequate environmental protection had been granted," he said.