November 24, 2003
Update: Privy Council hearing;
Dangers in construction

A.    Privy Council to hear case on Chalillo dam, Dec. 3-4:
Government to repeal offending Hydro Act

On December 3 and 4, the highest court in the Commonwealth will hear the case brought by environmental groups and business owners against the Belize government’s approval of the Chalillo dam.  The government is accused of giving the green light to the project despite a lack of important information about the dam foundations (see * geology *, below), ancient Maya sites that would be flooded, and the impacts of the project on endangered species, including the jaguar, tapir, and a unique subspecies of scarlet macaw numbering fewer than 200 in Belize.

The case comes amid government shenanigans including a last-minute plan to repeal an unconstitutional Hydro-electricity Act passed earlier this year that purports to make the dam legal “notwithstanding” what any court says.  In a hearing in August, the Privy Council signalled its intent to strike down the law, saying Belize’s Attorney General should be “under no illusions” abou the seriousness of such a law. 

At the same time, the government is racing ahead to change the country’s Constitution, in order to remove the Privy Council as its highest court.  The Constitution requires a three-quarters vote in the House, and a 90-day waiting period—thus, making it too late to stop the appeal against the dam approval.  A Caribbean Court of Appeals will replace the Privy Council, though it is not clear when this will take place, and what recourse Belizeans will have against the strong-arming of the government in the meanwhile.

B.    Geology: Dam site problems delay construction—dangers ahead

While construction on the Chalillo dam began in May, it has not gotten far—aside from destroying the forests at the site—because of a serious failure to correctly analyse the dam site geology.  Three major problems have arisen:

1.       Contractors have not found any granite at the site, which is needed as an ingredient to make into concrete for dam construction.  Permits have been requested to quarry in a new site further away—delaying construction and raising costs.

2.       Drilling at the site has revealed water flowing underground—this may be due to extensive underground cave systems or fractures in the surface rock.  In any case, it means that the dam is likely to leak into underground rivers.

3.       A gaping hole 60 feet deep opened up at the dam site.  Locals say this was due to seismic tremors.

C.          Privy Council denies Belizean application to televise hearing

BACONGO applied to the Privy Council, asking for video and/or tape recording of the hearing, in order to allow Belizeans to participate in this case, due to the great interest in the case in Belize.  Courts in England have not allowed televising of hearings in the past, and the Privy Council denied the application.  However, just weeks afterward, English courts began implementing a plan to allow cameras in courtrooms.

D.        Geology: Fortis/BECOL and AMEC removed fault lines in geology maps

The maps submitted to the Belizean government for approval of the project include one map where fault lines next to the dam site were removed.  Comparison with the original map upon which these maps are based shows that the Fortis/AMEC map does not include these prominent faults.  See for a comparison of these maps.

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