October 18, 2001
Environmental groups stare down billion dollar Canadian company over rainforest-destroying dam

TORONTO -- A series of hard-hitting advertisements was launched today in the Maritime provinces by a coalition of groups united to stop Fortis Inc. from building a dam that would destroy a unique rainforest in the small Central American country of Belize.  The ads, which feature a photograph of a jaguar looking intensely out of the page, asks Canadians to "look her in the eyes" and explain why Fortis Inc. plans to destroy her home.

The $1.5 billion energy and real estate company headquartered in St.John's, Newfoundland, plans to begin construction in January on the 50-metre high hydroelectric dam that would flood the wildest place remaining in Central America.  It would destroy the habitat of more than a dozen rare or endangered species, as well as inundate unexplored relics of the ancient Maya civilization.

The coalition of groups opposing the dam charge that the project will force electricity rates higher -- Belizeans already pay Fortis nearly three times more for electricity than ratepayers in Canada.

The ads are part of a grassroots and media campaign that will be rolled out over the next few weeks, the groups say.  "These ads are just the beginning," says Cyndi Gilbert of the Sierra Club of Canada - Atlantic Chapter. "We are going to get the message out to every shareholder, and every Fortis customer in the Maritime provinces and throughout Canada." Concerned citizens can take action on the new coalition web site: stopfortis.org.

Efforts to stop the dam have gained momentum and support over the past year: protesters picketed Fortis' holdings in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick during the company's annual shareholder meeting in May.  Leading ecologists and experts, including Dr. David Suzuki and artist Robert Bateman, have called on Fortis to cancel plans for the dam.

Members of Parliament, including Keith Martin, Alliance Critic for Latin America, have also expressed concern about the project, questioning the role of the Canadian International Development Agency in funding justification studies for the dam. Actor Harrison Ford, who filmed the Mosquito Coast in Belize, weighed in recently, with an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail challenging Fortis CEO, Stan Marshall, to cancel the dam project now that the company's own consultants have confirmed that the dam will cause a "significant and irreversible reduction in [Belize's] biodiversity." Ford also points to the Canadian government's complicity in an environmental assessment that Ford says was "rigged in favour of the Fortis dam from the outset."

"We're outraged," said Gráinne Ryder, Policy Director for foreign aid watchdog Probe International, "that Fortis has teamed up with the Canadian government to justify destruction of the Macal River Valley for a paltry few megawatts of hydropower and then to try to persuade Belizeans there are no viable alternatives. What a scam!"

The Stop Fortis coalition includes the Sierra Club of Canada, Probe International, BACONGO - an alliance of conservation groups in Belize - Newfoundland's Humber Environment Action Group, Action Environment, and Ryakuga, and the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Of chief concern to environmentalists is the loss of rainforest habitat for rare species that depend on this area for survival, such as the tapir, jaguar and Scarlet Macaw. Sharon Matola, an expert on the Scarlet Macaw and a member of the Belizean conservation group, BACONGO, says the dam would mean disaster for this large colorful parrot. "The dam will wipe out the last refuge for these birds in Belize, and drain badly needed economic resources with no benefit to the people of Belize," according to Matola. "We're asking the Canadian public to help us stop Fortis from bringing this disastrous project to Belize."

Environmentalists note that Fortis is attempting something in Belize that would be unthinkable in Newfoundland. "Fortis is trying to build a dam in Belize that would never get clearance here at home," said Greg Mitchell, an activist with the Humber Environment Action Group in Corner Brook. "Newfoundlanders have instituted a moratorium on dams of this size, due to environmental destruction they cause. We wouldn't allow it here and we shouldn't build it there." Mitchell said.

The print advertisements run in today's edition of the St. John's Telegram and Charlottetown Observer. The ad can be viewed at <stopfortis.org/printad.html>.


, Probe International, Toronto, Canada Phone: (416) 964-9223 ext.228.

Cyndi Gilbert, Sierra Club of Canada - Atlantic Chapter Phone (902) 422-5091


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