Friendship road injunction lifted but Hearns still suing – ‘We don’t want to fight THA’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Trevor James

CANAAN RESIDENT Serina Hearn says her family is not interested in fighting the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

“All we want is for them to uphold the law,” she told Newsday on March 19, hours after the High Court gave the green light for work to proceed on the $70 million Friendship Connector Road, Canaan.

But there is a caveat: construction must not be carried out on the portion of the land owned and occupied by her brother, Derek Hearn.

On February 28, Justice Eleonor Donaldson-Honeywell granted an injunction to stop the construction of a portion of the road after lawyers representing Derek Hearn, of Mill House 2, Friendship Estate, argued construction had damaged his property and began without the necessary approvals.

Hearn’s property has an organic farm, a horse stable, a beehive, an old wooden house, a well, and two mills. His attorney argued that his rights as the owner of Mill House 2, Friendship Estate were violated because the project infringed upon his property and caused unjust destruction.

But on March 19, Donaldson-Honeywell lifted the injunction by consent on grounds that the THA would refrain from taking possession, trespassing on, or conducting construction works on the portion of land identified as belonging to Hearn, which includes Mill House 1 and 2, a two-storey house, a flat, an apiary, a garden, a bus house as well as other structures until the substantive matter is heard and determined by the court.

The Friendship Connector Road is supposed to be a 2.7km dual-lane road, which the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development claims is 75 per cent complete.

Construction of the road began in May 2023 without the necessary Environmental Management Authority (EMA) or Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) approvals.

The latter was granted to the infrastructure division in September 2023 but with specific stipulations, which the Hearns argued the THA failed to meet.

Serina said although the injunction has been lifted by consent, in exchange for them agreeing to not trespass on the land her brother occupies, the family is still taking the THA to court for the portions of the property that have already been destroyed by the construction. She said the ordeal has taken a serious toll on her brother’s health.

“My brother has had a horrific stroke with all of the stress, so I am trying to protect him from unlawful action. So with their agreement not to trespass, we are now proceeding with the real matter of their destruction of his property.

“They unlawfully and illegally destroyed the stables and the shackle house. So obviously that was the focus of our taking them to court, and now that they have agreed to no more trespassing, we will proceed with that matter as the focus.”

Serina said the family is not against the THA building a road. “We are not trying to make their lives difficult.”

PNM: Justice for the Hearns

Commenting on the High Court’s decision via WhatsApp, Infrastructure Secretary Trevor James would only say, “We overcome stumbling blocks and press ahead with our development agenda.”

But PNM Tobago Council political leader Ancil Dennis said the THA should have followed the law in the beginning.

“All of this legal entanglement could have been avoided if the Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, Trevor James and the Tobago House of Assembly simply followed the law.

These legal battles will come at significant cost to the taxpayers and it was totally unnecessary,” he said in a WhatsApp voice note.

Dennis added, “I hope this will serve as a lesson to this runaway, vindictive and wicked THA administration that if they infringe on the rights of Tobagonians and if they operate with flagrant disregard for the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, then there is a place called the courthouse where citizens can seek redress, and I am happy that the court and the judicial system are working in such a way to hold administrations like these accountable.

“So I hope this serves as a lesson to the THA and as they embark on future developments they will simply follow the laws and observe all the requirements for statutory approvals, be it Town and Country, be it EMA, or whatever is required for the conduct of public business.”

He said the lifting of the injunction does not negate the fact that laws were breached. “As promised, we will be asking the Integrity Commission to look into the conduct of Farley Augustine and Trevor James with respect to these projects.”

Based on the High Court’s ruling, Dennis said, the THA must now say how the plan for the road is likely to be revised.

“I see where the court is instructing the THA to not encroach on the Hearn’s property, to not threaten or molest or intimidate or harass or interfere with them in any way.

The THA must now explain to the people of Tobago what does this mean for the current plan for the road. Is it that the route must now change?

Is it that the plan must now change? What is the plan for this road going forward?”

He said if the THA intended to build a road, the necessary plans should have been developed and submitted for the necessary approvals.

“In cases where the route was going to infringe on privately owned property, then all of the legal steps should have been taken to acquire these properties before any work started on these projects.”

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris said justice has been served. “The party has always stood on the side of the law in this matter and we have always advocated – let due process take its course,” he said in a WhatsApp voice note.

Morris said the THA, because it did not follow due process, has incurred additional legal costs.

“They incurred over $1.1 million in legal fees just because they failed to follow the law, which is that you must get CEC clearance, and the division, led by the secretary, chose to disobey and disregard the law and that cost taxpayers of TT over $1.1 million.”

He said the PNM was not against the development of Tobago, but due process must always be followed.