February 4, 2008
HidroAysen, a joint entity formed by Spanish-Italian electricity giant Endesa and Colbun, a Chilean energy company, plans to build five massive hydroelectric dams along Region XI’s Baker and Pascua Rivers. The Baker River, Chile’s largest, is in fact just a few miles from Tompkins’ Estancia Chacabuco, a massive stretch of pristine steppe land that Tompkins would eventually like to donate to the Chilean government.
The Patagonia Times recently crossed paths with Tompkins in Region XI, where he met last month with key members of the Chilean Patagonia Defense Council (CDP), an umbrella organization of both Chilean and U.S. activists attempting to thwart the HidroAysen project. The dams are only part of the problem, said Tompkins. Even more alarming is a 2,300-kilometer transmission line Canadian-owned Transelec (Brookfield Management) plans to build in order to transport electricity from the Aysen to central Chile.
Before moving ahead with the project, HidroAysen must first gain approval from Chilean environmental authorities. The company plans to submit an environmental impact study as early as March. According to Tompkins, the approval process is “a farce.”)
QUESTION: Given the proximity of this project to your park (Estancia Chacabuco, Region XI), you have to be a concerned neighbor. How actively involved are you in the campaign to stop this thing?
DOUGLAS TOMPKINS: We’re fully integrated into the campaign. We just had a big meeting here with the core members of the Consejo (CDP). There were about 20 of us. There are different layers. You’ve got 40 some members of the Consejo. And some couldn’t come for some other reasons. There’s a big effort. This is an epic environmental fight here. The biggest one that Chile’s ever seen. And it’s attracting a lot of attention. Because this is a mega-monster project. They’re talking about running these friggin power lines all the way up to Santiago and they’re going to disfigure the landscapes between here and there. And they’re winding all over. You should see a copy of the proposed (route). It’s a spaghetti type of thing. It’s only 1,600 kilometers in a direct line, but it’s a 2,300-kilometer line. It crosses eight or something protected areas. It just disfigures the landscape something terrible. And the impact of the wires is far greater than the dams. Of course, they’re trying to concentrate on the dams. The dam guys are saying, ‘Well, we’re not flooding that much. The containments aren’t that big.’ But that’s not where the real impact is. They’re talking about 20 million hectares of impact in one way or another all the way to Santiago. This is a big deal.
Q: And that impact is a lot more than just an aesthetic problem?
DT: Sure. You’ve got to build the things. They’re cutting a million trees. They’re going to need road access, which has a direct impact on the terrain. And of course the visual impact is terrible. It lowers property values. It affects communities. It’s just got a long list of negatives. All of this is unnecessary of course, because of a number of reasons. One being that you have to develop an energy plan. Chile doesn’t have an energy plan. All they’re into is growth, growth, growth. And this is the ideology of the cancer cell. We’re talking about a flawed economic model, a flawed development plan, lack of an energy plan, lack of an overall master plan of where the hell the country’s going. Nobody knows. If they do, it’s the best kept secret in Chile. What is the plan? Where does this stop? Where does development finish up? What is the goal? There is no goal. The goal is nothing but grow and grow and grow, and the hell with it. That’s it.
Q: I understand that HidroAysen is planning to submit its environmental impact study as early as March.
DT: Yeah, maybe at the end of March. And then you’ve got a complete farce of a system here to evaluate them. They can put in the worst plan you’ve ever seen and then what? You’ve got addendums and they don’t have to have any citizen reviews. It’s a stacked deck like I’ve never seen anything else. Loaded dice.
PT: If the government’s environmental approval system is such a rubber stamp, where does the campaign focus its energy?
DT: It’s got to put pressure on government and on so-called leadership, and get public opinion to rise up and say ‘Hey, this has to be thought out. There’s got to be a plan here.’ There’s no plan…And you’ve got this development mania, and it’s uncontrolled development, and that’s the basic economic model of Chile.
PT: You’ve been in Chile a long time. You’ve had interactions with the government over a number of different issues. How does this campaign compare as far as other efforts you’ve been involved in?
DT: This is a big one. This is the biggest one ever. Because it’s an iconographic thing. Megacentrales (dams) with these huge power lines going north. And that’s just only the start of it. There are concessions on 15 rivers down here and they want to run all those up there. There’ll have to be more power lines. So there’s going to be one power line after another cutting through all these different regions. It’ll destroy the economic possibilities of tourism. I mean forget it. Who’s coming here from all over the world to pay good money to come and see a bunch of power lines disfiguring the landscapes?
By Benjamin Witte ( firstname.lastname@example.org )