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Victorious VIEC

Beef Island with double lane bridge to Tortola in foregrown. Hans Creek Fisheries Protected Area is along right or west shore beyond airport. Photo credit: www.bareboatsbvi.com

Beef Island with double lane bridge to Tortola in fore grown. Hans Creek Fisheries Protected Area is along right or west shore beyond airport. Photo credit: www.bareboatsbvi.com

Victorious BVI “Fisherfolk” and VIEC win case against Beef Island unfettered developers

VIEC says win was a landmark

Written by Noni George and Mumpta Ito, the two individuals who worked tirelessly in Road Town filling the original suit that lead to formation of VIEC.

BY Press release BVI News, Originally published: September 23, 2009 04:42:00 PM
Last updated: September 24, 2009 07:21:10 AM

The Virgin Islands Environmental Council emerged victorious on Monday 21st September 2009 when Justice Indra Hariprashad-Charles handed down a judgment finding the approval of the Beef Island Project illegal.

The two-year legal battle began in July 2007 when VIEC, a group of concerned fisherfolk and residents, filed an application in the High Court seeking judicial review of the Jan 2007 decision by former Chief Minister, Hon D Orlando Smith granting planning approval to Quorum Island BVI Limited to construct a 5 star hotel, marina and golf course on Beef Island. The golf course and marina were located next to and partially within the Hans Creek Fisheries Protected area.

Contrary to arguments advanced by the Government and the Developer, Justice Charles ruled that Hans Creek is a Fisheries Protected area within the meaning of the Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Regulations provides that no development activity can take place which may or is likely to adversely affect a fisheries protected area. Any contravention of the Regulations is an offence under the law. Since certain aspects of the proposed development activity are certain to adversely affect the protected area, the planning approval is thereby rendered illegal.

VIEC wishes to make it clear that this victory does not prohibit all future development on Beef Island – however it does make it significantly more difficult for a scheme that is detrimental to the environment to be approved. The developer has the right to resubmit a proposal for planning approval and the Government has the power to grant approval for a suitable scheme that respects the environmental laws of the BVI. Accordingly, as long as the land remains privately owned, it is possible for the Government to approve the construction of a large hotel and exclusive residential community and even a marina depending on where and how it is constructed.

Although this victory is an important first step in ensuring that BVI environmental laws are protected, if the people of BVI would prefer Beef Island to retain all of its environmental integrity by remaining undeveloped then further action will need to be taken by lobbying the government to repurchase the land as the fate of Beef Island is now in their hands. It would be interesting to see what the government decides if plans are resubmitted given that all the original Beef Island areas in the Systems Plan have now been given approved for National Park status.

VIEC extends congratulations to its UK legal team from Six Pump Court under the direction of Stephen Hockman, Q.C. ably assisted by Mark Beard and other members of chambers and Mumta Ito of Itolaw. VIEC Director, Quincy Lettsome notes that “it was a hard fought battle and a meaningful victory indeed”. Directors Sheila Schulterbrandt and Richard DeCastro are pleased and elated with the results in the BVI’s first environmental case for several reasons. First, in establishing that there are laws and procedures in place for the protection of the Virgin Islands environment and these laws should be observed by all, especially the Government. Second, we are proud because this is the first time Virgin Islanders and residents have come together as a group to take such a public stand on an environmental issue, and in this instance the people’s position has been vindicated by the court. Third, the ruling sets an example for others throughout the Caribbean that they can be heard when challenging these types of ecologically destructive mega-developments.

As, Mumta Ito, Solicitor for VIEC who has been advising the charity since the outset of the case explains, “This landmark victory for the VIEC is a tremendous step forward for environmental justice in the BVI and the Caribbean as a whole. It clearly demonstrates that the system supports citizens to effectively take action in the public interest and shows that the judiciary are impartial in their analysis.”

The VIEC is extremely grateful to all members of the BVI community who have supported this case, both financially and with their encouragement. Persons far and wide reached into their pockets to help fund the immediate expenses of the legal action and keep the case alive. Tremendous support has been received from Ocean River Institute (ORI), a US-based charity, and other organizations and individuals, including Sir Richard Branson who provided discounted airline tickets for the legal team.

VIEC has been focused on the Beef Island case since its inception but the group realizes that there are many serious environmental challenges facing the BVI community and hopes to expand its focus in the near future.

Closing Note by Rob: The Beef Island victory is an important first step to seeing that environmental laws are enforced throughout BVI and the Caribbean. It establishes the vital role that community-based groups must take to protect their special places. VIEC and ORI are preparing to take further actions to educate and urge the government to repurchase areas of Beef Island identified for National Park status. When in Road Town, I had excellent meeting with the BVI National Parks director and look forward to working with him to realize their goals for Beef Island and for BVI environments both landscapes and seascapes. Please subscribe to ORI eAlerts to be networked with our efforts.