Belize - Belize News - - Great Belize Productions - Belize Breaking News
Home » Environment » Opponents say Chalillo dangerous site for dam
Jan 17, 2002

Opponents say Chalillo dangerous site for dam

Story Picture
With the green light given by government and the engineering component of the project already underway, now does not seem to be the most appropriate time to voice opposition to the Chalillo dam. But that has not stopped a number of people from putting out a message of warning to anyone willing to listen. Earlier this week News 5′s Janelle Chanona did just that.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Nestled deep in the Upper Macal River Valley, the quiet that surrounds the proposed site for the Chalillo dam is in direct contradiction to the controversy that continues to swirl around this project.

By all accounts, the debate on Chalillo has shifted from a highly emotional argument to a technical one. While the environmentalists still maintain that the impact to the local ecology would be significant, geological experts now contend that the area itself is unsuitable for the proposed storage facility.

Brian Holland, Geologist

“The Mountain Pine Ridge area has been the subject of geologic studies that date back to the early 1950s. All of these geologists had mapped this particular site as being bedded sandstone and shales of permeage.”

Brian Holland, a geologist living in Belize, has conducted several independent surveys in the area, and claims his findings conflict with those released by the power company.

Brian Holland

“I think that we need further investigations at the site here. If an engineer can come in and say, well we can deal with the faults once they are mapped, we can deal with the fractures once they are mapped, we can deal with the soft-beds once they are mapped, then we have to sit down and look very closed at that database.

To get away from the problems that I think are associated with these shales and these very soft irregularly cemented sandstones, I would move into the terrain where we do know we have a granite bedrock, because that granite is going to extend miles down. Now, if you can deal with the faults and the fractures in that, that’s a matter to determine through geo-technical investigations and tests.”

Lynn Young, CEO, B.E.L.

“If it is sandstone, it’s very good sandstone, it’s very hard rock. And if you fly over the area and look at Mollejon and look at the dam, you’ll see it’s a similar kind of foundation.”

Lynn Young is the Chief Executive Officer for Belize Electricity Limited, the company that will operate Chalillo. According to Young, there is no problem with the foundation.

Lynn Young

“It sounds to me from what I’m getting now is that there’s always this argument among geologists about what to call rocks. The geo-technical engineers and the guys who are designing the dam, what they are more interested in is how hard the rock is. And as we have pointed out, and they have pointed out to us, dams have been built on much less competent foundations than what’s there. What is there is excellent foundation for dam building.

It sounds like down at Mollejon, where granite is much closer to the surface, whereas at Chalillo, it might be bigger layer of sandstone metamorphosed as rock. But at the end of the day it’s really a question of how competent is the foundation to support a dam.”

Another one of Holland’s contentions is that the area in and around the dam site is full of faults.

Brian Holland

“The area is actually cut by a number of faults and there are substantial fractures here. These are what geologists refer to as joint sects. We’ve also been able to show you today that the sandstone that I’m standing on, it is indeed a very hard well cemented sandstone, but the degree of its induration of hardness varies as we go towards the riverbanks. In fact, the cementation fades to the extent that we can dig out the sandstone with a hammer.”

Lynn Young

“Our investigations, and I think we were the first ones to really find out, discovered that there has been earthquakes in the area. And so because of that, the dam is being designed to the California standard, which has one of the highest seismic areas in the U.S. The faults that are there, at least from an engineering point of view, I don’t know if the geologists want to call it major faults, but from an engineering point of view, they are not faults that we need to worry about.”

While the company asserts that the project is feasible from the ground up, another expert says the rocks in the area to be flooded present another problem.

Jan Meerman E.I.A. Consultant

“Basically those limestone hills can be so riddled with caves that you don’t know where everything is going. So we’re looking at potential leaks.”

Jan Meerman is a consultant hired by Ciagra Monenco Power Incorporated that carried out the Environmental Impact Assessment on Chalillo. Meerman spent a week assessing the impact to the ecology by dividing the area into four transects.

Jan Meerman

“Close by here where we are sitting now, this is the proposed dam site. We have one transect not too far away from here, just on the other side of the hill and it took nearly a mile to cut this transect to cover the whole area that going to be flooded, because that’s how wide the lake will be, so it will be nearly a mile wide. So we mapped everything, we measured all the trees, we identified as much trees as possible and the types of trees. The different types of vegetation will tell you little things, what animals can live there and also the vegetation is dependent on the underlying grounds, the soils, the geology.”

Meerman says as part of his report, he noted the presence of limestone outcroppings, but says when the document was forwarded to the National Environmental Advisory Committee, NEAC, those findings were left out.

Jan Meerman

“This particular aspect was taken out of the report when it was published. All the findings, the wildlife ecology findings were reported, but the one map that shows the limestone outcroppings disappeared somehow.

In all the ten years that I have been doing environmental impact assessments, I never had it happen that someone would take out findings out of my reports and then pass it on to NEAC. I don’t know what the legal stage of that will be, but it’s simply not done.”

Lynn Young

“I don’t know anything about that. When we get a consultant to do an E.I.A., they might subcontract people to do work for them, and their report will be based on the information they got from different people that have done the work. But they get various pieces of information from different people and in some cases, they might consider something relevant based on the information they get from another expert or whatever.

I know Ciagra got a geologist that’s a specialist in what is called caustic limestone, in this area. He’s a world-famous geologist and they had gotten him to go in and look at the limestone in the area and he was pretty satisfied, it was an excellent area for a dam.”

But even as requests for additional research are put forward, the dam already has the environmental green light…and the go-ahead from the government to proceed. And while some interest groups continue to press the case against Chalillo, the company is in the process of going forward.

Lynn Young

“If everything goes as scheduled, towards the end of 2003 the dam could be finished and then the following year, we could have in the powerhouse at the foot of the dam.”

Reporting for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.

Geologist Brian Holland is also a director of the Belize Zoo, one of the organisations leading the fight against Chalillo.

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.

Advertise Here

Leave a Reply