Environment: Privy Council Dams Belize

By Mistry, Elizabeth | New Statesman (1996), February 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Environment: Privy Council Dams Belize


Mistry, Elizabeth, New Statesman (1996)


While the rest of the world was dissecting the fallout from the Hutton report, the Privy Council quietly gave the go-ahead to a [pounds sterling]20m hydroelectric dam complex on a remote stretch of the Macal River in Belize, a tiny country on the Caribbean coast of central America. It was the first time in its 500-year history that the judicial committee of the Privy Council--which remains the highest court of appeal for a dozen Caribbean states that were formerly British colonies, as well as for New Zealand and Mauritius--had ruled on an environmental case. The split decision, three-two in favour of the Canadian power conglomerate Fortis Inc and the Belizean government, was a blow to environmentalists who have been fighting the project for six years.

The 50-metre-high dam will create a reservoir that will flood 10,000 hectares of some of central America's rarest habitats, including breeding grounds for endangered species. Just as worryingly, the bedrock that will provide the foundations for the concrete structure has turned out not, as was stated in the original environmental impact assessment, to be solid granite but a mixture of sandstone and shale. This, according to a geologist who knows the area well, is unlikely to provide sufficient support either to hold the dam or to prevent water seepage. The impact assessment also failed to mention that the dam site straddles an active geological fault line. …

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