December 11, 2001
Appeal for Reconsideration of Illegal Decision on proposed Chalillo Dam
|More Details on the Violations of Belizean Law|
Letter to Minister Briceno
MARILYN L WILLIAMS, JD
27 November 2001
Hon Johnny Briceno
Re: Chalillo Dam
I act on behalf of the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGO’s (BACONGO).
We write to appeal to you to exercise your ministerial discretion and set aside the decision taken by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) on the 9th day of November 2001, to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed Chalillo Dam or MRUSF.
The reason for this request is threefold:
I have attached hereto a more detailed description of the violations of the process and the document for your perusal.
We therefore trust that given the mandate of the Environmental Protection Act that “the Government of Belize be committed to preserving our natural heritage and to ensure that the exploitation of the resources is consistent with maintaining ecological balance that will sustain the natural abundance of our land and waters for present and future generation of Belizeans”, combined with the vast interest expressed in this project, both in Belize and worldwide, you will agree that the process must not only be transparent but must comply with standards of due process.
We sincerely hope that after careful review of the attached information you will reach the only reasonable conclusion, that NEAC must reconsider the EIA in a manner that is in compliance with the law.
Due to the urgency of this matter, we look forward to your response within a week.
Marilyn L Williams
, Probe International, Toronto, Canada Phone: (416) 964-9223 ext.228.
, Executive Director, Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs, BACONGO, Belize, (501) 2 33385
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As outlined below, the Department and NEAC have failed to comply with the clear requirements and the intent of the Regulations and the law. The purpose of an environmental review is to provide complete, reasoned, scientifically-credible information and full public involvement as a basis for governmental decision-making on projects with significant environmental effects. In the instant case, the Department has failed to carry out its obligations under the relevant Regulations and laws. Therefore, the process carried out by the Department and NEAC can not be a legal basis for any action by the Department or the Government of Belize to permit the building of the Chalillo dam.
The process as it has been carried out, is detailed below, evidencing a major failure of compliance with Belize’s regulations. The legitimacy of the EIA process has been further obstructed by the fact that, to date, no written record of NEAC’s discussions and decision-making process has been made available to either NEAC members or the public.
As is shown below, not only is the NEAC process highly flawed, but the EIA document upon which the Committee claims to base its decision is woefully incomplete. The EIA itself contains numerous clear statements from the experts that the document does not provide sound and sufficient footing for decision-making and there is a need for significant additional studies before making any judgement to go forward with this project.
BECOL submitted an initial EIA, prepared by a Canadian consulting firm, for this project to the Department in January, 2000. NEAC correctly identified this document as inadequate. Perhaps its most glaring deficiency was the absence of any wildlife studies. NEAC ordered BECOL to submit a new EIA. With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the consulting firm (AMEC) contracted various scientists and engineers to carry out additional studies.
On August 28, 2001, BECOL submitted its revised 1500-page EIA to the Department. The Department decided to give only 30 days for public review of the document. Given the length and complexity of the document, this was an insufficient amount of time to allow for a full review. Furthermore, the document made public was missing pages that contained critical information, and was not made widely available. It was not placed in libraries as initially promised by BECOL until shortly before the deadline for submission of comments.
Following the receipt of the revised-EIA, the Department solicited public comments, and received hundreds of pages of detailed technical comments from dozens of highly qualified scientists, experts and organizations. In clear violation of section 26(1)(c) of the Regulations, NEAC then failed to give these comments any consideration. These comments were never officially logged in, nor made available to NEAC members.
On October 24, 2001, NEAC met for the first time to discuss the EIA. An arbitrary decision was made by the Chairman of NEAC to put limits on the review of the EIA and to rush the decision. During the course of this first meeting, the members of NEAC identified a number of deficiencies and omissions in the EIA and raised a number of questions about the document. No decision was made to accept the EIA as complete for review.
Nonetheless, the very next day (October 25), the Department wrote a letter to BECOL indicating that in fact NEAC had accepted the EIA for review, but requested additional documentation and clarifications. This letter also did not include a number of very significant requests from NEAC members, such as the full GE feasibility study of 1999, which forms the basis for BECOL’s Project Justification. In a communication from BACONGO’s representative to NEAC, these additional items included:
The lack of the Department’s serious desire to undertake a full review is evidenced by the fact that they gave BECOL less than one week to provide substantial additional information. Just before NEAC’s next scheduled meeting, BECOL sent a mostly unresponsive 7-page letter, dated November 7, 2001,. As just one example, BECOL failed to provide any further details about management, monitoring and mitigation plans.
On November 9, the Chairman of NEAC called for a vote in spite of the obvious lack of opportunity to consider the documentation that had been provided just a few days earlier, let alone the voluminous technical comments that had been provided, and the absence of information previously requested by NEAC members.
On November 13, the Ministry of Environment issued an official press release stating that “a decision was made on Friday, November 9th, 2001 to grant environmental clearance for the project to proceed.” The Ministry claimed that: “The NEAC is satisfied that the benefits of the MRUSF project outweighs the environmental costs and that most of the adverse effects can be mitigated and/or managed through the implementation of a sound environmental compliance plan.” There is no basis in fact for either of these claims. First, NEAC’s review was rushed and inadequate, with many critical issues never addressed. The committee lacked a sufficient information-base to make a decision, and did not even attempt an adequate consideration of the documents they were provided. Second, it defies logic to suggest that NEAC could be satisfied that the environmental impacts would be dealt with adequately in mitigation plans that do not yet even exist. In fact, the EIA itself quotes its own consulting experts as saying that there is no possible mitigation for the significant impacts on wildlife and archeological sites in the impact area.
The Department violated section 21(b) of the EIA regulations that requires the Department to “determine whether it complies with the previously-agreed terms of reference”. The fact is, there were no Terms of Reference agreed in writing, prior to the commencement of the Environmental Impact Assessment, as stipulated in section 17 of the regulations.
NEAC also acted improperly in approving this EIA which clearly does not meet the legal requirements for such documents as stipulated in section 19:
1. Contrary to subsection (g), the document lacks “[t]he data necessary to identify and assess the main effects which the proposed development is likely to have on the environment.” As noted above, there remain numerous gaps and omissions in the document.
2. Inconsistent with subsection (i), the document does not make an adequate presentation of all reasonable alternatives. In particular, the document does not identify the least environmentally damaging alternative.
3. The document violates subsection (j), in that it does not include “all mitigation measures to be employed to reduce adverse effects” on the environment.
4. The document fails to provide the mitigation and monitoring plans required under subsections (k) and (l).
BECOL also failed to submit, with its EIA a copy of notice in the newspapers of Belize of the submission of the Environmental Impact Assessment to the Department of Environment, as required by section 20 (2), containing the information required by 20 (1).
The document itself highlights many of the major significant omissions, making it clear that the requirement of 19(g) for providing “the data necessary to identify and assess” the effects of the proposed development was egregiously dismissed. The lack of necessary data in the EIA includes:
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