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

76 Dean Street
Belize City

27 November 2001

Hon Johnny Briceno
Minister of Natural Resources & the Environment
Ministry of Natural Resources

Dear Sir

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:

  1. NEAC failed to comply with the procedural requirements for reviewing an EIA;

  2. The EIA as submitted is wholly incomplete and therefore inadequate; and

  3. Failure to hold public hearings prior to review of the EIA which would have given NEAC a list of the public’s concerns to be addressed by the document.

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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Details on the Violations of Belizean Law

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:

  • Relevant contracts related to the Mollejon and Chalillo, to include the contract for the purchase of Mollejon by Fortis.  The "current ' power purchase agreement for energy from Mollejon. The current price of power from different producers.
  • Full geology study as stipulated to determine karst formations.
  • Full archaeological study as called for within the EIA itself.
  •  Environmental management plan to include impacts of inundation.  The management plan has no meaningful discussion of impacts on endangered species.
  • Adequate wildlife studies; this includes the additional studies recommended in the EIA itself--studies in the wet season as well as dry season, multi-year studies of species, study of all affected species.
  • The Report on water quality at Cristo Rey that ruled out the dam as the cause of the villagers' concerns.

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:

  • The absence of critical documents.  These include the post-construction environmental assessment of the Mollejon dam, as well as important contracts that determine the economics of this project, including the Franchise Agreement governing BEL’s purchase of BECOL, as well as the contract for the purchase, by BEL of electricity from BECOL.
  • Inadequacy of the wildlife studies.  All wildlife consultants who contribute to this document emphasize the inadequacy of the existing studies for decision-making.  The Natural History Museum of London, the scientific body which was hired to provide the wildlife studies for this EIA wrote, in a cover letter presenting their findings that the existing body of information “is insufficient on which to base a sound decision regarding the possible construction of the MRUSF.” (September 5, 2001, letter by Richard Bateman, Director of Botany, NHM).  The wildlife report itself states that “it would be necessary”:
    • to conduct further studies earlier in the wet season and later in the dry season...
    • to extend the study to account for other species and communities of flora and fauna that will also be impacted by this project, and to confirm the presence or absence of other important wildlife species previously reported in the Upper Macal River (e.g. Harpy Eagle...)
    • further multi-year studies, including investigations of seasonal movements between different geographical areas over the total range of the Selva Maya population of Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera)...
  • The archaeological studies are inadequate.  The summary of archaeological findings notes that “the sites located are undocumented, and no archaeological information is known about the settlement and historical data of the region.”  Belizean law (Ancient Monuments and Antiquities Act, Laws of Belize, Revised Edition, 2000, CAP 330) and international practice require, at minimum, a full excavation of cultural heritage sites such as those found in this survey before the decision is made on whether to go forward with a project that could disturb or destroy them. 
  • The hydrological studies are incomplete and inconsistent.  Only five measurements of water levels were taken from the proposed dam site.  All other data has been inferred from limited and incomplete records at Mollejon, and data from a Cristo Rey gauge that has not been calibrated since 1984.
  • The Geological studies are highy incomplete and contradictory.  Even with the very limited geological studies undertaken, some sections of the EIA indicate the presence of karst cave formations within the area to be inundated by the dam—and this is confirmed by a number of independent surveys of the Upper Macal and Raspaculo rivers.  Nonetheless, the summary documents of the EIA indicate that no karst cave formations are found within the inundateion area.  The EIA itself points to the inadequacy of the studies:  “Although investigations up to now indicate that this is not a major concern, given the nature of geological formations in the area and the possibility that geological contacts may be inaccurate in some instances, additional investigations are warranted that are in line with the conventional approach with regard to geotechnical matters on hydropower projects.” (p. 236, MRUSF EIA Main document).  Given the serious potential risk to the dam’s stability that could be caused by inaccurate geological survey, it is imperative that these additional studies be completed before approval of the project by NEAC.

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