Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hydroaysen Keeping Public in the Dark, Say Chile Dam Critics

(Jan. 9, 2008) Endesa and Colbún, the companies behind the high-profile HidroAysén dam project in Patagonia, have failed to make good on promises to publicly share information about the possible environmental impacts of the venture, opponents of the controversial plan claimed this week.

(Unfortunately these enviromentlists have not learned from Endesa's last project on the Bio Bio River: Endesa Strategy & Tactics I – Revisiting the Ralco & Pangue Hydroelectric Projects on the Rio Bio Bio )

The two companies, working through a joint entity called HidroAysén, plan to build five massive dams in Region XI, an area of far southern Chile also known as Aysén. Slated for the area’s two largest rivers, the Baker and the Pascua, the dams would together generate some 2,750 MW of electricity – roughly equivalent to about 20 percent of the electricity Chile currently produces.

Before breaking ground on the estimated US$2.5 billion project, Spanish-Italian owned Endesa and Colbún, a Chilean company, must first gain approval from Chile’s National Environmental Commission. The companies are expected to file a requisite Environmental Impact Report (EIR) some time this year.

(Probably only a formality here. As when CELCO altered the scientific report presented to the Chilean Supreme Court, after its toxic pulp mill spill in Valdivia. "Although the Court recognised the ploy, it did not change its ruling." See: Revisiting the Valdivia CELCO industrial spill of 2005 )

In the meantime, HidroAysén ought to be forthcoming with the general public about the potential impacts the five dams would have on the pristine Patagonian region, insisted the project’s many critics.

(More forth coming than Barrick Gold Corporation's initial IES that left out the destruction of the glaciers? The farmers had to bring this to the attention of CONAMA. (See: Pascua Lama Gold Mine, a Threat to Sustainability )

Last October, HidroAysén General Manger Hernán Salazar agreed to do just that during a meeting attended by Energy Minister Marcelo Tokman, former Aysén Regional Governor Viviana Betancourt and members of the Chilean Patagonian Defense Council (CDCP), an umbrella organization of numerous groups and individuals opposing the controversial plan

But according to the CDCP, HidroAysén has not lived up to its promise. In recent months the company hosted a number of “open houses” during which officials offered slide shows focused primarily on the benefits of the five-dam project. The endeavor, the company claims, will provide jobs, bring down energy costs, and go a long way toward helping Chile meet its growing appetite for electricity. Open house visitors were also welcome to browse several volumes of technical information related to the project and its impacts.

Access to the voluminous materials, however, is severely limited, meaning that in practical terms, it’s still being withheld from the public, claimed the CDCP. “The information is available in the open houses, but it’s so extensive and so difficult to access. You can’t take it out, or photocopy it,” the organization’s executive secretary, Patricio Rodrigo, told the Patagonia Times.

(This is a pretty hydroelectric industry typical tactic. See: Australian dam proponents try an end run around environmental impact statement )

The CDCP recently asked HidroAysén to make the information available electronically, so that people might “study it calmly,” explained Rodrigo. “The company denied the request. They said ‘No, go to the open houses.’ But without photocopying or taking the material out of the office. And we’re talking about 15 volumes that are each 5,000 pages. So it’s not possible to go over (the information) or even really look at it.”

“The Defense Council of Chilean Patagonia condemns this move and considers it an open contradiction to the type of transparency and citizen participation that HidroAysén promised. (Naive? See: Endesa Strategy & Tactics I – Revisiting the Ralco & Pangue Hydroelectric Projects on the Rio Bio Bio ) This just goes to show that the open houses… are no more than a dressed up marketing strategy designed to sell the project,” the CDCP stated in a public declaration released this week.

Here is the full article.