February 11, 2002

Sierra Club of Canada letter to Members of Parliament

Dear Member of Parliament,

Within the last few weeks, bulldozers began destroying important rainforest habitat for jaguar, tapir, scarlet macaw and other rare and endangered wildlife in the Macal Valley, Belize to make way for the construction the Chalillo hydroelectric dam.  This news is particularly alarming, as the company backing this project is Canadian, and justification for it was funded by Canadian taxpayer dollars, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The dam is an electricity project of Fortis, a billion-dollar Newfoundland-based corporation. The company has been the subject of mounting criticism over the past several months as the public has learned the ugly facts behind its proposed rainforest dam: that the dam would be impoverish Belizeans and would have a devastating effect on the wildlife of the Macal River Valley.  CIDA has spent $500,000 to fund a flawed and erroneous environmental impact assessment (EIA), which Fortis is now using to justify its project and obtain approval for the project from the government of Belize.

Fortis and its partners are breaking the law in Belize, rushing ahead with no permits and no public hearings and without correcting the potentially life-threatening errors made in the CIDA-funded report.  Although Fortis claims that the dam is being constructed in the interest of Belize, Belizeans already pay Fortis more than three times the average energy rates in Canada, and this dam will certainly worsen the situation. The contract for the Chalillo dam would commit Belizeans to using Fortis energy, before using any cheaper source, and extend Fortis’ monopoly over energy production in Belize.

The 50 metre high dam would produce a fixed capacity of less than 3 Megawatts of electricity (approximately equivalent to a  very small scale diesel generator), and  flood a 22-kilometre stretch of the Macal River Valley, one of the last intact wilderness areas in Northern Central America. Eighteen world-renowned biologists including Dr. David Suzuki, and Dr. Peter Raven, the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science have written to Fortis, urging it to cancel plans for this dam that would cause irreparable damage to wildlife of international significance.  These scientists and many others have shown that the dam  would undermine efforts to establish a Meso-American Biological Corridor, a passageway connecting wildlife populations from Mexico to Panama, and a project that has received considerable funding from nations around the world, including Canada. 

The EIA for the dam, prepared by Montreal-based AMEC, ignores the findings of the scientists from the Natural History Museum of London, contracted by AMEC to do the wildlife assessment.  The NHM concluded that the dam would result in harmful impacts including “significant and irreversible reduction of biological diversity in Belize...fragmentation of the proposed MesoAmerican Biological Corridor...reduction in the numbers of migratory birds from the United States and Canada overwintering in the area...”  Nonetheless, AMEC, and the main document produced by the CIDA funded report ignored these findings.

Further, recent investigations by experienced geologists in Belize have revealed that the CIDA-funded study makes numerous misleading, false, and potentially disastrous misstatements about the geology of the dam site.The CIDA funded report states that the foundation for the dam is granite, when in fact the dam site contains no granite at all, but is made up of weathered sandstones and soft shales.   If the dam is built with this incorrect information, it could be at risk for failure and flooding of downstream populations.

Canada’s involvement with the Challilo dam is proving to be an international embarrassment, as voices of opposition to the dam are being raised not only in Canada and Belize, but in the United States and Europe as well. The dam puts Belizeans and wildlife at risk, in the name of unseemly monopoly profit.

We are calling upon you to intervene in this matter in the interest of the Canadian public and the residents and wildlife of Belize. Please contact the Minister responsible for CIDA, the Honourable Susan Whalen, and ask for a public and transparent review of this funding.

The construction of the dam must be halted, and the faulty report recalled.

We look forward to your action in this dire matter. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.


Elizabeth May,
Executive Director,
The Sierra Club of Canada


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