|November 30, 2001
Fortis faces opposition throughout Altantic Canada over plans for Rainforest Dam
Halifax, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Moncton-- Concerned citizens from across Atlantic Canada are taking part in a regional day of action, calling on Fortis Inc. of St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador to immediately stop its plans to construct the Chalillo Dam in Belize, Central America.
“We’re going to hold Fortis businesses everywhere accountable for what they’re trying to do in Belize. The people of Belize are saying that they don’t want this dam and we’re listening,” says Cyndi Gilbert, Coordinator of the Sierra Club Atlantic Canada. “Canadians don’t want a part in a project that will take money out of the pockets of Belizeans and put it into Fortis’ profit margins.”
Belizeans already pay the highest electricity rates in Central America, rates that are 3 times higher than the average Canadian. According to Fortis’ 3rd quarterly report 2001, operations in Belize brought in earnings of $5.6 million while operations in Newfoundland & Labrador earned $3.4 million, even though Newfoundland Power sold eight times more energy than Fortis’ subsidiaries in Belize (814 Gigawatt hours vs. 100 Gigawatt hours in Belize). Critics point out that such high rates of return are only possible because of Fortis’ monopoly control of power production and distribution in Belize. More than 400 people gathered earlier this month in Belize’s capital of Belmopan to protest the dam and Fortis’ electricity rates.
This Friday’s demonstrations will be held at Fortis properties including the Maritime Centre in Halifax, the Holiday Inn in St. John’s, and the Maritime Electric offices in Charlottetown.
Actions will also take place at Fortis properties in New Brunswick. “The dam will destroy a globally important ecosystem, flood undisturbed Maya monuments, and will ruin the river for downstream residents,” says Daniel LeBlanc, Executive Director of Sentinelles Petitcodiac Riverkeeper. “We’ve seen the devastating effects of dams on our environment and our communities. Fortis has no right to do this to Belizeans.”
When the project was originally announced, Fortis’ CEO H. Stanley Marshall said that his company would not go forward with the project if it harmed the environment. The company’s report, financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) includes a report on wildlife by the Natural History Museum of London, demonstrating the dam’s irreversible effects on rare and endangered species. Fortis submitted this report to Belizean authorities for environmental clearance.
“Now that Fortis’ own wildlife consultants have shown that the project should not go forward, they’re shifting responsibility to the government of Belize,” says Aaron Koleszar of Earth Action PEI. “And our government, after spending nearly half a million dollars of taxpayer money on studies to justify the project, now wants to keep it a secret. Fortis and CIDA must take responsibility for this scandal.”
Those who oppose Fortis’ dam say this is just the beginning. “Newfoundlanders are rising in opposition to the dam and taking action through the Stop Fortis website and events like today’s,” says Colin MacDonald of the Humber Environment Action Group. “We in this province will continue to send a clear message to Mr. Marshall, reminding him that Fortis would not, and could not, build this dam in Newfoundland & Labrador and we’re here to see that they can’t build it in Belize either.”
Belizeans were heartened by the support coming from Canada. “Fortis has steamrolled our environmental laws to get approval for its project,” says Jamillah Vasquez, Executive Director of the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs. “I am very encouraged that Canadians are also taking Fortis to task for this at home.”
Cyndi Gilbert, Sierra Club Atlantic Canada (902)422-5091
Colin MacDonald, Humber Environment Action Group (709)722-9306
Aaron Koleszar, Earth Action PEI (902) 659-2575
Daniel LeBlanc, Sentinelles Petitcodiac Riverkeeper (506)388-5337
Jamillah Vasquez, Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs (BACONGO) (501) 2 33385
Sharon Matola, Belize Zoo (850)969-1369, in Belize (501) 8 13004
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