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Jan 17, 2003

Public is heard in Chalillo hearing

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Those opposed to the hydroelectric project on the Macal River known as Chalillo, lost a crucial court battle last month when the chief justice ruled that the project’s government approval was properly handled. The only caveat in the judgement was the failure to hold a public hearing where opinion could be solicited on the dam’s environmental impact. Last night that requirement was fulfilled and News 5′s Marion Ali reports from San Ignacio.

Marion Ali, Reporting

The forum was aimed at allowing the public a chance to voice their opinions on how the Chalillo hydro project will affect the environment. Chaired by Magistrate Eric Fairweather, the proceedings aired the views of almost thirty people. Most of those in attendance thought the advantages of the dam outweighed any damage that it would cause.

Chief Meteorologist Carlos Fuller offered his thoughts, saying that in addition to reducing the negative effects caused by diesel generation of electricity, the dam will also cushion the flooding effects along the river.

Carlos Fuller, Chief Meteorologist

“Through proper water management practices, we would be able to discharge stored water in a timely and responsible manner if excessive rain was forecast. This would mitigate the impact of flash floods that annually threatens San Ignacio and other municipalities downstream.”

But newspaper columnist Meb Cutlack had his own take on flooding.

Meb Cutlack

“What happens at this point in the event of a dam break is water roaring through above the Hawkesworth Bridge by probably twenty, fifty feet higher. Just imagine the alarm system that can alert the people of San Ignacio, Santa Elena, and all the villages in time if that happened in the middle of the night.”

For Evaristo Avella, Belize should be independent in producing its own power.

Evaristo Avella

“We are thirty to forty years behind dam-building. If we do not build today, our children thirty to forty years from now will be sixty to eighty years behind those of developed countries, and they will blame neither B.E.L. or Fortis. They will blame us, parents or at least those of us who are still around in Belize at that time.”

For his part, George Gonzalez feels the blame should be placed squarely on B.E.L. and its majority owner, Fortis Ltd.

George Gonzalez

“The only reason our prices are low now, is because Mexico has given a subsidized break. And here we are slapping them in the face, talking bad about them, we can’t trust them and this and that. We can trust Fortis? A man who told us on TV that the rates are not gonna go down. But its representatives are saying it will go down, so who are we to believe, the king maker or who?”

According to B.E.L.’s C.E.O., Lynn Young, the support for the project expressed at the forum is consistent with what the public has always been saying.

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

“We have found consistently that the majority of Belizeans are in support of the project. That has always been the results of our surveys. “

Marion Ali

“Do you think that the reason why those who were against it initially did not come out tonight because they have given up on the whole process, knowing that approval has already been given to the project?”

Lynn Young

“I thought so at first, but several of the speakers made a point to say that initially they were against the project, but that after considering everything, even though they have some concerns–which is understandable with a project of this nature–they support the project…Obviously a lot of people have changed and are supporting the project with caution and that’s fine.”

And caution, according to Godsman Ellis, is needed more than ever.

Godsman Ellis, BACONGO

“And that the Compliance Plan is the only thing that we can hold on to make sure that it is followed properly and that enough monitoring and competent people who are not necessarily government, but independent people, make sure that that compliance plan is adopted.”

And that’s exactly what the Department of the Environment plans to ensure. According to the D.O.E.’s Chief Environmental Officer, Ismael Fabro, proper monitoring can prevent any potential mishaps.

Ismael Fabro, Chief Environmental Officer

“I am very much confident that the measures that we have included in the Environmental Compliance Plan and any other measures that we may need to take in the future, that those issues would pretty much adequately deal with any forecasted failure of the dam. Let me give you the assurance though that the dam, the way they are constructed, there’s a very slight possibility of this occurring. And even if it occurs, there are adequate measures that will give the general public the assurance that this will not lead to any catastrophic event.”

And with the court mandated hearing now complete, the catastrophic event that the dam’s opponents have feared most–that is, its construction–is all but assured. Marion Ali for News 5.

The Belize Association of Conservation NGO’s, BACONGO, has applied to the Supreme Court for an injunction against any dam construction, while it awaits the outcome of its judicial appeal.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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