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NEW COASTAL ROAD : THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT CONFIRMS THE LEGITIMACY OF THE DECREE ISSUED BY THE PREFECT

The Administrative Court has confirmed the legitimacy of the decree issued by the Prefect of Reunion, which, in accordance with the French Environment Code, has authorised construction of the new coastal road, as well as conforming the decisions authorising the Regional Council of Reunion to be exempted from the prohibitions regarding the preservation of protected animal species, exemptions necessary for the construction to be carried out.

Through judgements issued on 26th May 2016, the Administrative Court of Reunion rejected the applications of two associations concerned with environmental protection - France Nature Environnement and SREPEN (Reunionese society for the study and protection of the environment), both of which, in accordance with the provisions of the French Environment Code in respect of water and the protection of aquatic and marine environments, contested the decision authorising the Regional Council of Reunion to construct the new coastal road between La Possession and Saint Denis, declared a Public Interest Project, and to be exempted from the prohibitions linked to the conservation of protected animal species. As regards the authorisation to carry out the construction work, the court considered that the application for authorisation included the relevant documents, required by the provisions of the French Environment Code, and that these documents analyse with a sufficient degree of precision the impact of the project on the aquatic environment, notably the modification of the coastal outline and the effects of setting up artificial reefs in compensation.

The court considered that at this point in time, it was not necessary to study the impact of quarrying or the restructuring of the roads leading into the towns linked to the project, to be the object of specific studies once the exact nature of these have been defined. The court rejected certain arguments used, which were based on an insufficient understanding of the project being declared a PIP, considering that the modifications at the application stage of the construction will not substantially affect the essential characteristics of the project.

Regarding the substance of the case, the court considered that it could, in this specific case, enable exemptions as regards the respect of the objective concerning the satisfactory ecological and chemical condition of the water around the project, on condition that the authorised project for construction of a safe road between Saint Denis and La Possession corresponds to a major Public Interest Project for the territory of Reunion and that the objectives of the project cannot be achieved by other means that might present a fundamentally improved environmental option, which may be achieved at an economically acceptable cost. Concerning this latter issue, the court rejected the arguments presented by the associations making the application, which declared that the option of ‘ two viaducts’ was, from this point of view, preferable to that of the option of ‘dike + viaduct’. As regards the authorisations for exemption from the prohibitions related to the preservation of protected animal species, the court accepted that the studies presented in the request were sufficient, enabling the assessment of the impact of the project on the species concerned. Regarding the substance of the case, the court considered that the conditions required by the French Environmental Code as regards the issuing of such exemptions have been fulfilled, there being, first of all, absence of a satisfactory alternative solution, and, secondly, fulfilling the condition of not preventing the maintenance of the populations of species concerned in a favourable state of conservation in their natural habitat.