REPORT #127 Nov 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

by Sharon Matola
As predicted, the public relations officer for the proposed Chalillo Dam Project, has condemned the analysis report accomplished by economist John Reid. Mr. Reid's assessments mirror those already made by CI Power in their 1998 feasibility study, AES Global Power, from Mr. Keith Speak and the Macal River Valley Initiative. All four reports indicate that the project is economically unsound and would cause energy prices to go up, not down.

However, do note, the real assessment is yet to come in the form of the "exhaustive" environmental impact Assessment (EIA) brought to you by Monenco-Agra Inc. and General Electric.

Monenco-Agra Inc. represents a group of Canadian dam engineers. General Electric is quite a choice of company to provide expertise to Belize. Do note their caring approach to the environment. This is the same company responsible for dumping millions of pounds of polycchlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) in New York's Hudson River. To any reader unfamiliar with the black hat worn by thePCB's, they have been proven to be a human carcinogen associated with liver, kidney and nervous stem disorders.

But the question is: Where is this EIA? First it was stated that is document would be completed and be out by the end of August. Then the date was moved to mid-September.

Please keep an eye out for an upcoming "positive assessment" of the Chalillo Dam project, once the BEL -approved version is ready.

Regarding the ongoing controversy of Chalillo Dam, please do note the following:

On April of this year, I was told by a power official that "no conclusion on the viability of the Chalillo Dam project could be reached by hydro engineers from Dominion Energy due to insuffiient data available." This refers to complete absence of hydrology data from the Upper Macal and Raspaculo Rivers. The data which exists is from the village of Cristo Rey, inappropriate for application to the Chalilto.

An independent geologist in Belize visited the coring site for the proposed Chalillo Dam. This person reported that the rocks which the engineers were describing as "granites" were in fact sandstones with clay beds. The clay in the area of the proposed dam are considered unstable for the construction of a dam. I have seen this assessment in writing.

What happened to the promised "exhaustive studies" on other sources of available energy? Why are we not hearing anything on bagasse as a possible option to this poorly conceived dam project? Just across the border in Guatemala, there is a congeneration plant fuelled by bagasse "derividos de caña" which produces 25 megawatts - nearly three times the amount of power predicted from the proposed Chalillo Dam.

And let's not forget the so called "threat" of Mexico cutting off our power supply. Keep in mind that Belize has a contract for the purchase of Mexican. power through to the year 2008 at Mexican industrial rates. This contract removes the risk that Mexico could cut off Belize at any time. And how many readers are aware that BEL has made an investment of more than $US $37 million to link its grid to Mexico. Does this signal to anyone that a lack of confidence is maintained in our neighbour and our power connections?

The Belize environment, a precious resource for all of us, is worthy of more consideration than what it is receiving within this debate. Over seven percent of all plants and animals on earth are crammed into less than one half percent of the Central American Isthmus. The natural resources remaining today remain only in fragments. An area as rich in biodiversity as the Raspaculo and Upper Macal River Valleys should be treated as sacred land.

All Belizeans have every right to stand proud - knowing that we have territory in this country unmatched in its natural assets within the region. But it is now under severe threat due to a hydro project which has no economic or environmental validity.

Finally, while it is repeatedly noted that "no decision has yet been made" regarding the Chalillo Dam, would someone please clarify for me the visit I received on the afternoon of 22 July of this year? A representative from the government of Belize took over two hours of his time to firmly insist that I should "stop what I was doing with Chalillo because it was going to happen anyway."

How should I and those closely following this issue interpret that?

And while Mr. Norris Hall, Public Relations Officer for the Chalillo Project agreed with me that the nine megawatts of power predicted to be produced by the proposed Chalillo Dam would indeed be insufficient for the energy needs of Belize, his answer to that was: "It's all in the plan. There will eventually be a third dam built further upriver too."

Why hasn't this information ever been brought into the public arena for consideration?

As information continues to emerge about the Chalillo Dam, it is becoming ever clear that this hydro project is not the project to take the nation of Belize into the new millennium.The people of this country deserve a far more just approach to their energy needs.

Chalillo is not the answer.

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