Canadian Consulting Engineer

Opposition groups continue to fight Canadian involvement in Belize dam

May 5, 2003
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Groups opposed to the proposed Chalillo dam in Belize continue to campaign against the hydropower project, which is...

Groups opposed to the proposed Chalillo dam in Belize continue to campaign against the hydropower project, which is to be built by Fortis of Newfoundland.
Probe International, a non-governmental organization based in Toronto that campaigns vigorously against large dam projects in developing countries that have Canadian engineering backing, has the Belize dam at the top of their list. The organization has criticized the dam on technical, economic and environmental grounds.A Belize court has ruled that the project located in the Macal River Valley can go ahead, but the Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Governmental Organizations (Bacongo) is appealing the decision in the British Privy Council, the final court of appeal for Belize.
In March, a packed forum on the proposed project was held at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. The key presenter was high-profile U.S. environmental lawyer Robert J. Kennedy, Jr., senior attorney of the Natural Resources Defence Council.
The opponents say that the 35-metre high dam will flood 1,000 hectares of one of the last pristine rainforest areas in Central America. The Macal River valley is home to endangered species and tapirs, jaguars, howler monkeys and scarlet macaws. It also contains archaeological sites.
The critics say that the 7.3 megawatts capacity output projected for the proposed dam is not enough to be worth sacrificing the pristine area. They also say the produced power will be at above-market prices. Instead they advocate finding alternative power sources, such as using bagasse, sourced from local sugar cane, as a fuel.
Fortis acquired a 95% interest in the Belize Electric Company in 2001 sells its power under a 50-year agreement. It owns and operates the 25 MW Mollejon hydroelectric facility downstream of the new dam on the Macal River, and some say it wants the Challilo dam to boost production at Mollejon.
According to a report in Britain’s Independent newspaper, Hollywood stars Cameron Diaz and Harrison Ford have been enlisted to oppose the dam.


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