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

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.