Green groups lose Belize dam battle approval

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The Independent US

A coalition of environmental groups yesterday lost the latest round in their legal battle to halt the building of a dam in one of the most fragile habitats in Central America.

The Privy Council, sitting in London, ruled by a majority of three to two against the Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Governmental Organisations (Bacongo), which raised concerns about the potential dangers posed by the structure.

Bacongo says the 50-metre high Chalillo Dam planned for the Macal river valley in Belize will destroy a tract of unspoilt rainforest, home to more than a dozen endangered species.

They argue that the project, which involves flooding three and a half square miles of rainforest, would threaten communities living downstream and produce too little electricity to be worthwhile. But the coalition vowed to fight on, taking comfort from the judgments of the two dissenting law lords, Lord Steyn and Lord Walker. Tony Garel, chairman of Bacongo, said: "This is a setback, but we won't stop until we get the truth. The Privy Council was highly critical of the Belizean government."

In January 2002, the coalition began legal action to overturn the environmental impact assessment for the project.

Becol, a Belizean subsidiary of the Canadian power company Fortis, plans to build the dam and sell the power to Belize Electricity Limited, owned by Fortis and the sole Belizean utility.

Supporters of the scheme say it is the most economic option, and would ease reliance on Mexican energy as well as providing cheap electricity.

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