George Aboud and Sons Limited (GASL) has been ordered to pay damages to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for breaches to the Environmental Management Act (EM Act). This follows the clearing of land and construction of a boundary wall on the Las Cuevas Estate without a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC).
The judgement was delivered by the Environmental Commission on July 1st 2020, more than a year after the EMA first filed for an injunction to halt all works on the Las Cuevas Estate pending the granting of a CEC. However, the Commission ruled that an injunction was not required since there was currently no continuing violation on the site but instead ordered that damages for the breach be paid to the EMA.
The value of damages is yet to be determined by the EMA. The value will be decided on the basis of an Administrative Civil Assessment of damages for the environmental breaches. GASL would also be required to cover the EMA’s legal costs in the matter, which are also to be determined.
Timeline of events
February 20th, 2019 – Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) alerts the EMA of the illegal clearing on the Las Cuevas Estate by way of serving a Notice of Direct Private Party Action.
February 21st, 2019 – The EMA visits the site and determines that GASL did clear a portion of sloping land on the western boundary of the Las Cuevas Estate to facilitate the construction of a boundary wall.
March 20th, 2019 – The EMA files for an injunction in the Environmental Commission, restraining GASL from conducting any further works on the Las Cuevas Estate until a CEC is applied for and obtained, as well as a declaration that GASL has committed a breach of the EM Act and the CEC Rules.
A history of breaches
In the Judgement for Environmental Management Authority v George Aboud and Sons Limited (EAA 001 of 2019), obtained by Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, the EMA outlined a history of environmental breaches by GASL for conducting illegal works on the Las Cuevas Estate and the Las Cuevas Beach. This history of breaches, as well as GASL’s experience in applying for CECs, were used by the EMA as grounds for putting a halt to the action.
In 2016, GASL was served a Notice of Violation for the clearing of a forested area on the estate without acquiring the relevant approval. They were subsequently fined $13,430.47.
Two years later, in 2018, GASL was again served a Notice of Violation for the illegal construction of a sea wall on the Las Cuevas Beach which is a recognised turtle nesting site. GASL agreed to halt works, apply for a CEC and cover the EMA’s cost in investigating the breach, a total of $5,900.25.
This most recent event will mark the third time in four years that GASL has been found to be in breach of the EM Act and the CEC Rules. On this occasion the breach occurred through the conducting of excavation works on a hill with a gradient steeper than 1:4, the threshold after which hillside clearing would require a CEC to mitigate the environmental impacts.
GASL relied on one sole witness, its Managing Director George Aboud. GASL argued that the EMA did not have grounds to apply for an injunction since the works were already completed in December 2018. Aboud also submitted that the works were conducted to prevent squatters from encroaching on the property and that enforcement against the construction of a boundary wall to protect his property constituted a breach of his constitutional right to the enjoyment of property.
GASL also contested the Environmental Commission’s jurisdiction to grant an injunction in this matter and contended that the Designated Activity 8(c) for which they were found to be in breach is ambiguous in defining what slopes constituted a 1:4 gradient.
In its judgement, the Commission acceded that an injunction could not be filed for an already completed activity, as submitted by GASL. The Commission also indicated that GASL’s contention that the EMA’s enforcement was a breach of Aboud’s constitutional rights fell under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago and therefore the Commission would be unable to hear and make any determination on such a constitutional claim.
With respect to the challenge of the Commission’s jurisdiction, the Commission determined that it did indeed have the jurisdiction to hear and determine in the case. Finally, the Commission concluded that GASL’s contention of the ambiguity of Activity 8(c) was not supported by any evidence and that GASL did indeed commit a breach of the EM Act and ordered the assessment of damages to be undertaken and submitted to the Commission.
The judgement was delivered at the Environmental Commission by Their Honours Sunil Sookraj, Chairman of the Environmental Commission; David Alexander, Deputy Chairman and Anna-Marie Metivier-Hernandez, member of the Environmental Commission. Attorneys in the case were Gavern Mitchell for the EMA and Navindra Ramanan for George Aboud and Sons Limited.