Chalillo Dam

Canadian rainforest dam on trial at University of Toronto

March 12, 2003

Fortis shareholders are at risk, Kennedy warns.



March 12, 2003

Environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy, Jr. will join an international panel of experts in a moderated forum at the University of Toronto this week to warn Fortis Inc. shareholders of the financial and environmental risks posed by the Canadian power company’s plans to flood Belize’s famed Macal River Valley.

Kennedy, a senior attorney at the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, was instrumental in convincing U.S.-based Duke Energy to abandon the same plans nearly two years ago. Fortis, a billion-dollar corporation that owns electric utilities in Ontario and Newfoundland, revived the Belize project with backing from the government of Belize.

A controversial environmental assessment – paid for by the Canadian International Development Agency – endorsed Fortis’ construction of the dam, which would wipe out rare rain forest habitat for the scarlet macaw and jaguar. Independent peer reviews have revealed serious errors in the assessment, conducted by the Toronto-based engineering firm, AMEC.

Kennedy and other critics allege that the Canadian government, by funding Fortis’ flawed assessment, has created a veil of legitimacy for an environmentally disastrous project that could jeopardize shareholders’ returns through cost overruns and legal entanglements.

Kennedy and other speakers will show how Fortis shareholders and Belizeans have been denied accurate information about the dam’s real costs and risks. And a new report by California-based geotechnical engineer, Professor Richard Goodman, will be released, which suggests that the likelihood of cost overruns and damage to river valley communities is higher than the company has disclosed.

Grainne Ryder, a policy analyst for Toronto-based foreign aid watchdog, Probe International, says she hopes the forum will alert Canadians, many of them Fortis shareholders and ratepayers, to the risks posed by the company’s conduct in Belize. "We think Fortis could better serve its shareholders’ long-term interests by ensuring a fair hearing for Belizeans and submitting to a competitive bidding process for cheaper electricity options that don’t threaten the Macal River Valley."

The University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies has invited Kennedy and other experts (listed below), Fortis, the government of Belize, and Canada’s foreign aid minister, Susan Whelan, to present their views in a forum that will be broadcast live on the Web.

The two-year fight against Fortis has included two lawsuits and complaints to regulatory bodies in Belize, Ontario, and Newfoundland where Fortis operates electric utilities.

The forum, moderated by Professor John Kirton, is sponsored by the Munk Centre for International Studies, the EnviReform Project, the Centre for International Studies, the Department of Political Science, the Masters of International Relations Program, the Program on Water Issues, the Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, in collaboration with Lake Ontario Keeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Probe International.


Robert Kennedy, Jr., Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Litigation Clinic, Pace University, New York

Hevina Dashwood, Department of Political Science, Brock University, Ontario

Elizabeth Graham, Director, London Institute of Archaeology, former Archaeology Commissioner of Belize and Royal Ontario Museum associate. Currently Director of Belize’s Lamanai project

Ari Hershowitz, Coordinator, Latin America Program Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington DC

Sharon Matola, Macal River Valley wildlife expert, Founding Director of Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre, and member, Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs, Belize

Greg Malone, political satirist and Newfoundland-based environmental and consumer advocate, St. John’s

Grainne Ryder, Policy Director, Probe International, Toronto

WHEN: Thursday, March 13, 2003, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Vivian and David Campbell Room, Munk Centre for International Studies, South Wing, Main Floor, University of Toronto, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3K7. Tel. (416) 946-8901.

PHOTO AND VIDEO OPPORTUNITIES: Video footage and photos of wildlife in the Macal River Valley are available on request.

INTERVIEWS: Interviews can be arranged via Sue Toye, University of Toronto Public Affairs, Tel. (416) 978-4289.

For further information, CONTACT:

Grainne Ryder, Probe International, Toronto, Tel. (416) 964-9223, ext. 228, cell (416) 333-1697


Fortis in Canada: A billion-dollar Canadian corporation traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, it owns electric utilities and hotels in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Bill Daley is President and CEO of FortisOntario which operates a 75-megawatt hydro dam at Niagara Falls, and owns electric utilities serving residents in Cornwall, Fort Erie, Gananoque, and Kingston.

Fortis in Belize: The majority owner of Belize’s Electricity Limited, the country’s electric utility, and owner of the Belize Electricity Generating Company (BECOL), a private subsidiary that owns the country’s only commercial hydro facility, downstream of the proposed Chalillo dam site, which has been plagued by technical problems and lower-than-expected output since it began operating in the 1990s. Fortis currently charges Belizeans several times what ratepayers in neighbouring Central American countries pay, as well as three times the average rate of electricity in Canada. (Residential rates in Belize are between 17 and 21 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour; Canadians pay between five and seven U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour).

Fortis President and CEO Stanley Marshall has said his company is ready to start building the C$45-million hydro dam at the end of March 2003.

Mr. Marshall told CBC Radio in 2001 that his company would not go ahead with the dam if the study paid for by CIDA and conducted by Toronto-based AMEC found that it would cause "untoward damage to the environment." But AMEC and Fortis dismissed the conclusions of their consultants – scientists at Britain’s Natural History Museum – that the dam would cause "significant and irreversible" harm to more than a dozen rare or endangered species, including the jaguar, freshwater crocodile, howler monkey, and a rare sub-species of scarlet macaw.

The Chalillo dam would also flood unexplored Maya settlements that archaeology experts, including Dr. Elizabeth Graham, believe could hold important clues about ancient Maya civilization.

AMEC: A British-Canadian engineering multinational with offices in Toronto, Montreal, and St. John’s. AMEC prepared the environmental assessment of the Chalillo dam for Fortis and, prior to that, worked on preliminary studies for the Chalillo and Mollejon dams.

For further details visit the Save the Macal River Valley Coalition’s Web site at and Probe International’s Web site at

Categories: Chalillo Dam

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