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Mar 31, 2003

BACONGO to take Chalillo to Privy Council

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Meanwhile, this morning in the Court of Appeal, Justices Rowe, Mottley, Sosa and Carey presided over the trial of the environmentalists versus the electricity company. In the case, BACONGO, the Belize Alliance of Conservation N.G.O.s sought to have the Court of Appeal overrule the decision made by Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, which gave Fortis/B.E.L. the green light to go ahead with the Chalillo Hydroelectric Facility. BACONGO had contended that procedural irregularities such as an incomplete Environmental Impact Assessment, a lack of mitigation measures, and no public hearings on the issue had rendered the decision by National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) void. After the C.J. ruled against them, BACONGO decided to appeal.

Both sides made their presentations, and after a few minutes of deliberation, just before noon today the court declared that because of the considerable importance of the case to the public, instead of handing down its decision in June, the bench would rule now and deliver its written reasons at a later date. President Ira Rowe stated that even though the justices didn’t agree with several of the findings the C.J. made, overall the judgement would stand. Immediately after the justices dismissed the case, BACONGO attorney Lois Young-Barrow informed the court of her client’s intention to take the matter to the Privy Council.

Lois Young-Barrow, Attorney for BACONGO

“I was surprised at the way they had ruled, but this is part of the process. You go on appeal, you don’t succeed there, if you have the money, you go on a higher level. You have to work the process. I don’t agree with their decision, but that’s their decision.”

Janelle Chanona

“What will be your grounds you’ll take to the Privy Council, the same ones you took to the Court of Appeal here?”

Lois Young-Barrow

“Basically yes. We have three clear strong grounds that we think we think will ground an appeal to the Privy Council. We’ll fine-tune them, but basically they are the same grounds that we raised here. We raised more at this level and we will take three of those and take them up to the Privy Council, depending on the money.”

Janelle Chanona

“In the interim, can B.E.L./Fortis go ahead with anything go ahead on site for the dam?”

Lois Young-Barrow

“Well there’s no stay on the project, no injunction on the project. If they want to risk it they can go ahead. But once we go to the Privy Council then it could be a different decision. Could be, we don’t know.”

“One of the things with this whole case is the protection of the democracy, because you have committees that look at the E.I.A. on behalf of the public. They are the guardians of the environment on behalf of the public and one of the things is that you want the committees to function properly; you want them to have proper guidelines as to what they need to do. And we feel strongly in this case that because there was a government interest in seeing that this dam was built that the committee, from the minutes of their meetings, while dissatisfied with the E.I.A., felt a need to come to a conclusion which approved the project, contrary to the evidence that was before them.”

According to Young-Barrow, her clients have twenty-one days to file their appeal to the Privy Council.

But while the BACONGO group is trying to rebound from another hit, B.E.L. breathed a sigh of relief. According to the Belize Electricity Limited’s Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Young, the company is ready to get down to business, and if everything goes according to plan, things should start moving on the ground in April.

Lynn Young, C.E.O., Belize Electricity Ltd.

“As you know, we had to rent some diesel machines this year because we’re short of capacity. And in fact, the Chalillo project should have been completed this year; that was the timing for the whole thing. So we’re relived that we can get on with the project, but I understand that BACONGO plans to take it further, so there’s also that hanging over the project still.”

Janelle Chanona

“In the interim, will B.E.L. continue on the ground work if it hasn’t started already?”

Lynn Young

“Yes. We plan to get started, we are waiting approval from the Public Utilities Commission and as soon as we get that we’re going to start working on the ground. So we figure within another year and a half to two years, we could project completed if we can get started this month.”

According to Young, a Chinese company: C.W.H.E.C., has won the tender to construct the Chalillo Hydroelectric Facility.

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