Chalillo Dam

Dam fight turns nasty as Fortis announces start-up

The Reporter, Belize
November 2, 2001

Leading Belize newspaper, The Reporter, publishes coverage of the recent media event in Toronto to stop the Fortis dam.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. joined environmentalists from Belize, Canada and the United States at a news conference on Thursday to alert Canadian shareholders to plans by the Canadian company Fortis to flood Belize’s Macal River Valley, one of the wildest places remaining in Central America.

Kennedy and other leading environmentalists urged the power company’s shareholders to vote against the proposed Chalillo plan. Other speakers also presented evidence to show that the Fortis dam is a bad deal for the environment, a bad deal for the economy of Belize and an international embarrassment for Canada.

Thursday’s environmental lobby comprised Robert Kennedy Jr. of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Jamillah Vasquez of the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs, Sharon Matola of the Belize Zoo, Greg Malone, Newfoundland hydro activist, Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada and GrĂ¡inne Ryder of Probe International. They met with Fortis shareholders on Thursday at the Toronto Stock Exchange Conference Center Executive Boardroom located at 130 King St., Toronto, Ontario where they distributed campaign material, as well as photos of wildlife threatened by the dam. Post-conference interviews with the speakers were also arranged.

Fortis Inc., a billion-dollar Canadian corporation traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is the majority owner of Belize Electricity Limited, which wants to flood an extensive stretch of Belize’s Macal River Valley. Fortis President and CEO, Stanley Marshall, has announced that Fortis is ready to start building the $45 million hydro dam in January 2002, even though the company’s own wildlife consultant, the Natural History Museum of London, has recommended that the dam not be built.

The consultants’ study, paid for by the Canadian government, concludes that the dam will cause “significant and irreversible” harm to more than a dozen rare or endangered species, including the jaguar, the freshwater crocodile, the howler monkey, and the Scarlet Macaw.

The Fortis dam would also flood ancient Maya archaeological sites. But the most telling argument, for Belizeans at least, is that Belizean ratepayers will have to subsidize the high cost of the dam by paying higher rates.

Fortis’ top shareholders include the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Board, and Royal Bank Investment Management. A complete list of major shareholders was presented at the press conference on November 1, and it is expected that these shareholders will be contacted one by one for a groundswell that will light a fire under Mr. Marshall.

Environmentalists are especially inflamed by Fortis’ refusal to meet with them for further discussions about the dam. Last week Fortis informed a citizens group in Canada that “no further meetings are necessary.” Fortis also made a general announcement that it is ready to start dam construction at Chalillo in January next year.

The environmental lobby points out that it has new evidence that the proposed dam is not economic; that the Fortis monopoly will allow the company “to gouge captive Belizean ratepayers in order to pay for the dam’s high costs.”

Environmentalists also point to the fact that the Natural History Museum of London advises that the dam at Chalillo should not be built because it would cause “significant and irreversible harm” to Belizean wildlife.

As the time-frame for ground-breaking approaches, Fortis finds itself fending off fiercer attacks from the environmentalist lobby. The latest blast, which aims squarely at Fortis’ shareholder power-base, states: “We believe that Mr. Marshall has misled the public and Fortis shareholders by claiming on CBC radio that his company would abandon the dam project if the Canadian environmental assessment found that it would cause untoward damage to the environment. Despite that assurance, Fortis is now preparing to proceed, despite the fact that its own wildlife consultant, the Natural History Museum of London, has concluded that this is precisely what the dam will do.

For more background on the campaign to stop Fortis and save the Macal River Valley, the coalition has prepared a web site at <>.

Categories: Chalillo Dam

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