Layou River by Heather CC-Picassa

Layou River in Dominica by Heather CC-Picassa

We are very excited to hear that a court in Dominica has agreed to review a case challenging the government’s decision to allow an asphalt plant to be built in one of the most pristine valleys in Dominica, a beautiful island in the Caribbean. The proposed site is on the banks of the Layou River, an area designated by the Government itself for a major eco-tourism initiative, and less than a mile from the picturesque village of Layou which lies on the estuary of the river. This is a major milestone–it is the first time citizens in Dominica have filed a case to enforce the county’s environmental laws and prevent environmental abuses before they occur.

Two and a half years ago, ELAW Staff Attorney Liz Mitchell and I traveled to Dominica to help advance environmental law there.  We joined our partners from the Jamaica Environment Trust, Diana McCauley and Danielle Andrade, who are pioneering grassroots environmental law in the Caribbean.  We met Dominican attorney Bernard Wiltshire and held a community workshop to begin educating citizens about their power to protect the environment through law.  Citizens of Dominica—known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean—care deeply about the natural environment and we urged them to speak out to defend it.  The environment is too important to leave it to government—citizens must play a role in protecting it.

We are thrilled to learn that Bernard is now bringing this pioneering case to challenge an ill-conceived plan to build an asphalt plant in such a location. Lawyers and scientists from ELAW and JET are collaborating with Bernard on this case, which could yield many lasting benefits in Dominica and across the region.  This case could prevent the unlawful construction of an ill-conceived asphalt plant in an environmentally sensitive location; protect Dominica’s largest river—the Layou—from pollution; establish that citizens of Dominica can go to court to enforce environmental laws and their right to participate in planning decisions; and strengthen the rule of law in Dominica.

Even bringing this case marks a tremendous step forward and it will echo throughout the region.  Congratulations to Bernard Wiltshire and the citizens of the Nature Island!

Bern Johnson
Executive Director