Government is being asked to disclose whether or not there will be an adequate sewerage system in place upon construction of the controversial Hyatt Centric Resort on Bay Street, The City, to avoid a repeat of the sewage problems being experienced in Bridgetown and the south coast.
Although the High Court has ruled that attorney-at-law David Comissiong has the legal right to challenge Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s decision to grant permission for work to commence on the US$100 million project, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said last week when he introduced the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, that work would begin on the project this year.
However, Ronald Toppin, the Member of Parliament for St Michael North, has questioned whether an adequate sewerage system would be put in place to accommodate that 237-room hotel.
Pointing to the already burdened Bridgetown and south coast systems, Toppin also asked why Stuart, who has responsibility for Town and Country Planning, was refusing to undertake a comprehensive environmental impact assessment.
Toppin, the Shadow Minister of Tourism, warned that the 15-storey hotel could worsen the sewage problem.
“The Prime Minister . . . has been really adamant in relation to the Hyatt hotel and he is defiant of the whole issue of the need for an environmental impact assessment, but I would trust that having had now the situation where sewage is rampant on the south coast and since it now start to filter down here in the Bridgetown area, that the Prime Minister would recognize the need for an environmental impact assessment in relation to the construction of the Hyatt hotel on Bay street,” Toppin said in the House of Assembly last week.
“That will add so much sewage to Bridgetown that it would be foolhardy to decide that you are going to proceed now without recognizing that you have to do a study as to what the impact would be on [the sewerage system],” he warned.
Construction of the long-awaited hotel is facing a legal challenge by attorney-at-law David Comissiong, who, along with the National Trust, had opposed the planned project on environmental grounds from the very beginning.
Government has argued that the multi-storey property was urgently needed to help improve the island’s struggling economy, which is projected by the International Monetary Fund to grow by a jaundiced 0.5 per cent this year amid burdening debt, a stifling fiscal deficit and tumbling foreign exchange reserves.
However, Comissiong, who has made it clear there is no injunction preventing work from starting on the project, is arguing that the development must be subjected to a comprehensive environmental impact assessment that includes wide public participation.
While stating that he was not opposed to the construction of the Hyatt, Toppin said he simply wanted to ensure that it would not compound an already troubling sewage problem, which has prompted travel and health advisories by Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“No one is saying you cannot go ahead with the project but you got to do it and do it the right way and a way that will not cause further grief or further pain to Barbados.
“The people who have to endure the stench and the disgrace of having to smell and drive through sewage on a daily basis, they can’t tell you that they benefit from any pain that they go through,” Toppin said.
In December last year, High Court judge Madame Justice Dr Sonia Richards threw out an application by the Prime Minister, who had asked the court to rule that Comissiong had no legal ground on which to challenge his decision.
The court found that Comissiong had standing under the Town and Country Planning Act as a person aggrieved, and he had the right to challenge Stuart’s decision under the Administrative Justice Act as a person whose interest was adversely affected by the permission given to build the hotel.
The judge also ruled that the High Court would hear Comissiong’s case in the public’s interest, a decision the social activist said that was most pleasing.
Comissiong has challenged Government’s decision not to conduct an environmental impact assessment on the multi-million dollar beachfront development. The attorney had also argued that Stuart had relied on an outdated physical development plan, even though Section 11(1) of the Town & Country Planning Act stipulates that the plan, which is about 15 years old, must be updated every five years.
He also took issue with the 15-storey elevation, pointing out that the maximum height allowed for beachfront hotels was five storeys, compared to seven storeys for non-beachfront tourist accommodation.