Last year, it was big news out of San Pedro Town when a group of conservation-minded residents formed a group called the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development. They started bringing public pressure on the government for the Department of Environment's approval of a proposed development on Cayo Rosario.
This is a 10-acre island off the northwest coast of San Pedro, beloved to island residents due to its importance as a rich natural habitat for marine and terrestrial wildlife.
Well, that island is owned by the private company, Cayo Rosario Development Limited, and they want to build a resort there. The infrastructure was initially proposed with more than 80 over-the-water structures.
The Department of Environment and the National Environmental Appraisal Committee convinced the developers to downsize the project significantly due to environmental concerns, but that wasn't enough for the ACCSD, who engaged a public campaign aimed at shutting down the development completely.
They even went to the Supreme Court and filed an application for judicial review of the decision to grant the approval to develop Cayo Rosario. They complained that the government's environmental technocrats failed to properly consult with stakeholders.
In the end however, after Justice Courtney Abel heard submissions from the attorneys for both sides, he ruled that the Department of the Environment properly exercised its responsibility to assess the environmental risks. He dismissed the application from the ACCSD, which is a big win for the DOE.
We spoke via telephone with Jeavon Hulse, the Ministry of Environment's legal counsel, about the outcome:
Jevon Hulse, Legal Counsel - Min. of Environment
"Deal with the merits of the case, looking at their strongest argument that they made before the court."
"They were not able to prove that they actually had a good, arguable case, which a reasonable prospect of success. That's the actual test, an arguable case with a reasonable prospect of success. So, they were not able to do that. What they did was they they presented an argument that essentially, there was only one consultation, and after that, there was no other consultation. We showed by evidence that they submitted themselves that there was in fact consultation in respect of the fly-fishing, and that consideration was given to the fly fish issue, so much so that the project scope had been modified to take into account some of the comments and the concerns raised during the public consultation. More than that, there was targeted consultation for specific groups and agencies, who are the persons who wanted to be consulted. And we showed that in court as well."
"Essentially, what was one of the determining points as well, was the issue insofar as when the matter was brought. The DOE had made a decision to grant environmental clearance in May of 2018. The Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development did not file the application for leave for judicial review until February 2019. The Civil Procedure Rules, the CPR, provides that you have 3 months within which to file for an application for judicial review of a decision. Outside of these 3 months, you would need to show reasonable cause, justification as to why you did not file within the 3 months. They unfortunately, were not able to provide adequate reason to the satisfaction of the court to substantiate their late filing."
"It's been a highly publicized, highly controversial case. And the DOE's name has been dragged through the mud for being lax in the service of its duties. How do you feel with this decision of the court?"
"Well, essentially, it vindicates the DOE."
"What would you say to those persons, those San Pedranos, who feel that a very important part of their natural resource matrix is undermined or disturbed?"
"The thing is this. What the EIA did was the identify possible negative impacts associated with the development. This development, the proposed development went through significant screening and scrutiny, to the extent that the initial scope was reduced by more than 50%. Now the issue will be to ensure that they comply with the compliance plan."
From Hulse's perspective, the developers are now in the clear to follow through with their development which has been approved by the Department of Environment.