Privy Council to hear appeal against Belize dam

The Privy Council in the UK has ruled in favour of an appeal against the building of the Chalillo Dam in Belize. It is the first environmental case to reach such a high level.

BACONGO, a coalition of Belizean environmental groups had submitted a petition to the Privy Council, to place an injunction on construction of the dam until the legality of the environmental impact assessment (EIA), by UK firm AMEC, could be determined.

The Privy Council, which acts as the Supreme Court of Belize, announced that a ruling on the injunction would be made in August, and a full appeal hearing would be held in December.

Craig Bennett, Corporate Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, told edie: “It is very good news that this appeal will finally be heard, but people in Belize should not have to resort to legal action to protect their wildlife.”

Environmentalists say the dam will only provide a fraction of the electricity the country needs but destroy the habitat of many endangered species, and subject communities downstream to the risk of dam collapse and water pollution.

Probe International, part of the BACONGO coalition, found the EIA by AMEC to be, “both inaccurate and incomplete”, saying that it “lacked the information on which to provide an assuredly satisfactory and safe structure”.

It is also alleged that AMEC played down the findings of an assessment by scientists from the Natural History Museum, which stated that the dam would cause irreparable harm to a number of rare animals and their habitats.

AMEC denies both claims.

Lawyers for the Belize Government and Belize Electricity Ltd (BEL) argued that the Chalillo project was of public interest and should be allowed to proceed. They also argued that BACONGO was not entitled to an injunction as the group would be unable to pay for losses if the legal action was unsuccessful.

The dam, owned by Fortis, a Canadian utility, is estimated to cost US$30 million and produce 5.3 megawatts of electricity. If these estimates are true, it will be the most expensive electricity in South America.



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