In a ruling of 20 July 2015, the Court of First Instance of Bonaire again reversed the decisions to build a large-scale hotel and restaurant pier in the middle of a heavily protected marine park. As was the case last year, the decisions were carelessly prepared and poorly motivated by the local authorities. Anne-Marie Klijn and Berend Haagen from NautaDutilh are advising and conducting legal proceedings at the request of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Bonaire National Parks Foundation (STINAPA, statutory manager) and Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB) against a maze of public authority decisions facilitating building activity in the marine park. In addition to being an intended UNESCO world heritage site, the park is one of the oldest and best managed marine reservations in the world.
The Court acknowledges that the local authority is significantly breaching the decades-old protection policy of the marine park by allowing building activities, while no specific reason has been given why this long-standing policy is being violated and what this will mean. In fact, the reasoning is based only on the final result and there is no evidence of a proper and satisfactory spatial assessment (including investigation) for the decision to amend the Bonaire Spatial Development Plan, according to the Court.
Taking account of the nature-related and economic interests of Bonaire
In addition, the Court considers that because of the size and complexity of the problem and in view of the significant interests at stake for the nature and economy of Bonaire, it is highly probable that the island council will no longer be able to avoid an environmental impact assessment when taking any new decision. The assessments already carried out do not qualify as such. The Court also ruled that the nature permit on the basis of the Bonaire underwater park island order is invalid and may be considered separately in law from the Bonaire Spatial Development Plan that the Court reversed, so that decision too has been quashed.
The fact that the concerns of STINAPA and STCB are not unfounded is supported by international coral reef experts who fear irreversible consequences for the reef and by the previous refusals of the local authority dating from 2009, which were cited by the Court, relating to the same pier: "In conclusion, the construction of the pier, the dimensions and the design form are contrary to the marine environment directives and the policy pursued by the island territory since the early 1990s to protect the underwater park. Many permits have been refused in the past on this basis. It would be very risky to adopt a different position now and to create a precedent, as this would seriously undermine the policy developments and also prejudice Bonaire’s image as a green island".
NautaDutilh and corporate social responsibility
Taking responsibility for the effects of our activities from social, ecological and economical perspective, is a fundamental part of how we think and act. We are firmly rooted in society and actively contribute to the way it functions, based on our specific competences and our diversity, in a way that is true to our character. That same mission was of equal importance to one of our founders, Tobias Asser, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1911 and the same applies today. This is exemplified by our desire to help the WWF and its partners to ensure that central government and local authorities exercise the greatest care when taking decisions that affect the world heritage of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.