Privy Council hears BACONGO appeal

December 3, 2003

Testimony began today in the first-ever environmental case to be heard
by the Privy Council in London, brought by BACONGO who opposes the building of the Chalillo Dam on the Macal River.

Attorney for the coalition of environmental groups, Richard Clayton, told the five man judicial committee that a series of studies have shown that the Chalillo dam, backed by Fortis Inc. of Newfoundland, Canada, would sit on shale and sandstone, not granite as a Belizean environmental assessment reports. According to the Reuters News Agency, Clayton said he was not arguing that a dam could not be built at a higher cost on sandstone, but that type of dam "is not the dam we've been looking at in the Environmental Impact Assessment." BACONGO wants the Privy Council to order a new E.I.A. for the thirty million U.S. dollar project, even though construction already began earlier this year. Vice President of BECOL and Chief Engineer at Fortis, John Evans, defended the project saying that the rock is similar to granite, although it was "misidentified" at a lab in Costa Rica. Evans says the dam is the cheapest way to boost Belize's energy supply. Prime Minister Said Musa, who was in London for a CARICOM leaders meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, defended the dam in the British Press.

Musa told reporters and diplomats "This issue has been subjected to many
battles. Environmental groups challenged the viability of the project to the High Court of Belize where they lost, they then went to the Court of Appeal where they lost again because the court was fully satisfied that the environmental impact assessment had been properly done. Now they have appealed to the Privy Council." He said Belize needs the Chalillo Dam to guarantee itself an independent source of electricity. The Privy Council has scheduled two days to hear the appeal, which continues on Thursday. The Privy Council acts as the final court of appeal for a number of commonwealth countries, including Belize.

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