December 6, 2003

A.G. pleads "poor us" at Privy Council

Belize Reporter

Completely sidestepping the entire issue of deceit and shoddy conduct of Fortis, BEL, and the Belize Government over the Chalillo Dam issue, Attorney General Godfrey Smith instead pleaded "poor us" to Britain's five Law Lords at the Privy Council hearing.

The Attorney General said that, as a poor country, Belize relied on foreign investment to build public projects and he fears that the money would "evaporate" if the Privy Council orders the dam to undergo a second environmental assessment. He said that this could possibly postpone construction of the dam for years or cause the project to be abandoned.

"Belize simply cannot afford for the world financial community to know that there is this kind of indecisiveness," Smith said.  Maybe they should have thought of this before they began their decietful charade!  Referring to Power purchases from Mexico, the Attorney General said: "It is not in our national security interest to rely on a foreign country for half our electricity needs."

The Attorney General carefully side-stepped around the sensational disclosure that Fortis, BEL, and the Belize Government had kept hidden the Cornec Report on the geology at the Challilo's site until the Friday before the Privy Council met. This report totally contradicts the Fortis/AMEC Environmental Impact Assessment which described the bed rock as granite and stated that there were no known fault lines in the immediate area.  More than 3 years ago the Reporter newspaper first revealed that the "granite" Fortis/Amec described was only sandstone and shale but this was vehemently denied by BEL, Fortis, and AMEC.

Then, in January 2002, geologist Brian Holland, technical director of Belize Minerals Ltd, warned that the Fortis/AMEC report:
* Wrongly identified bedrock at the dam site as granite when the area is made up of sandstones interbedded with soft shales, which have poor load-bearing capacity;

* Failed to report geological fault fractures in the project area, including 30-kilometre long Comma Cairn Fault which is large enough to be visible from satellite images of Belize;

* Failed to include a geological map of the area to be flooded by the dam, an area known for its extensive network of limestone caverns which could drain water from the dam's reservoir and render it useless.

"The weight of the proposed 50-metre high dam could compress soft shales and potentially lead to structural damage and dam failure if bedrock subsidence from seismic activity was triggered. The implications, economically and environmentally, and the potential cost to human life in villages downstream, are immeasurable."

Brian Holland's report then, and Jean Cornec's now, tell the same story, a story very different from the report issued by Swiss Boring for AMEC in the EIA which stated: “Granite, dark gray with white crystals, porphyritic, medium coarse grain, crystalline, fresh, strong very strong, with few inclusions quartz intrusive rock, up 5 cm size.”

The Government's tactic now, as spelled out by Godfrey Smith to the Privy Council, is to attempt to save the Chalillo project by saying that they have already spent too much money on it to stop.  At best this is a spurious argument which ignores the fact that, by deliberately supressing the Cornec Report, they and Fortis were guilty of hiding crucial evidence from Belize's Chief Justice, from the Appeals Court, and from the Privy Council in their first hearing.

This evidence could quite possibly have changed the outcome of all three hearings and stopped the dam in its tracks BEFORE they spent the sums they now claim.

A recent visitor to the Dam Site encountered an infuriated Chinese engineeer crumbling sandstone in his hand and lamenting that it bore no resemblance to the information which he had been given!

It is time that Fortis, BEL, and the Belize Government faced the fact that Chalillo is a disaster and should be abandoned as quickly as possible.  If these three conspirators are truly interested in safe and cheap electricity for the Belizean people, they should instead take a look at the high quality oil that is about to be pumped from at least one of Belize's easily accessible oil reserves.

This oil can, either alone or combined with woodchips, waste and other cheap, throw-away vegetable matter, be burnt without expensive refining for co-generation considerably cheaper than Chalillo can ever produce power.

And, if they want to persist in hydro power, then go to low head hydro from any of a number of sources to the East of the Mayan Mountains.
What they should also do is to stop criticizing BACONGO and such friends of Belize as the NRDC and other environmental groups, whose only motive is a better Belize for Belizeans - unlike the huge monetary rewards Fortis and its elite group of Belizean friends hope to reap in building the abortive dam.

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