Chalillo Dam

C.J. denies Vaca Dam injunction, but grants judicial review

Adele Ramos
July 25, 2007

Belize Environmental Law and Policy Office vice president Candy
Gonzalez argues for stay on construction of $105-million Vaca dam
pending fulfillment of certain aspects of an Environmental Compliance

Without the traditional legal garb, Candy Gonzalez, vice president of the Belize Environmental
Law and Policy Office (BELPO), appeared before Chief Justice Dr.
Abdulai Conteh on Friday, arguing for an injunction to stay the
construction of the $105 million Vaca dam until certain aspects of the
Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) for its forerunner, the Chalillo,
have been complied with.

Gonzalez has
specifically raised two issues she said are of major public conern: (1)
the lack of an emergency preparedness plan in the event of a flash
flood on the Macal River, the river on which the dams are built, or in
the event of dam breakage, and (2) the absence of mercury testing
downstream of the dams, and particularly of methyl
mercury in fish. BELPO has listed the Chief Environmental Officer as
defendant. Acting Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Allegria, was
present for Friday’s proceedings.

Three crown counsels
from the Attorney General’s Ministry ‚Äì Deshawn Arzu, Andrew McSweaney
and Pricilla Banner – appeared on behalf of the Chief Environmental
Officer and the interested parties: the Director of Health Services,
the National Emergency Response Organization (NEMO) and the National
Meteorology Service (NMS) – all Government agencies.

from requesting the injunction, BELPO has asked the court for a
compliance order (or writ mandamus), ordering the Department of the
Environment to enforce the country’s environmental laws that mandate
the Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL) to adhere to the
environmental compliance plan and put in place a dam break emergency
plan. This would be determined through subsequent judicial review
proceedings before the Supreme Court.

In court Gonzalez said that the ECP for Chalillo, signed on April 5,
2002, required the emergency plans, as well as adequate publicity to
inform the community of what they need to do in the case of a dam break
or threatening flood on the river. But according to her, there is no
indication that this requirement has yet been met, and with the
hurricane season upon us, it is even more important because many people
from other parts of the country seek refuge in the area during
hurricane threats.

Gonzalez told the court that this amounts to an egregious violation of
the law because the ECP is binding on the Department of the Environment
(DOE) and BECOL: BECOL has the obligation to fulfill and the Government
has the obligation to monitor and ensure that there is compliance. She
added that the people of the area have a legitimate expectation that
the Government, NEMO and the DOE will look out for their interest.

Vaca is referred to as the final stage in a three-dam project on the
Macal River and should not be allowed to proceed until the current
health and safety concerns have been addressed, Gonzalez further stated.

Counsel Pricilla Banner was the main presenter for the Government’s
case. She told the court that the Department of the Environment has
been proactive in seeking to ensure that the issues are addressed, but
since the DOE relies on other Government agencies, such as the
Fisheries Department and NEMO, to accomplish some of the ECP’s
requirements, the hold-ups have really been out of their hands. She
told the court the court that there is voluminous correspondence to
prove this point.

She went on to say that because of the problems the DOE has experienced
in getting the Chalillo ECP effected, the requirements under the VACA
ECP are different and intended to ensure that where these other
Government agencies do not (or cannot) do their part, then the DOE may
contract independent parties to get the job done. This, she said, was
done to ensure that the compliance issues experienced with Chalillo are
avoided with Vaca.

There were a lot of teething pains, but that does not mean there was no
compliance with the Chalillo ECP as alleged, Banner stated, adding that
BELPO was seeking to hold Vaca hostage because of issues with Chalillo.

The counsel also told the court that granting permission for the
injunction would impose undue hardships on contractors for Vaca.

After listening to the parties, the Chief Justice indicated that while
he would not grant BELPO’s request for an injunction, he would grant
them leave to file for judicial review.

The court is now awaiting that application before it can set a date to proceed.

Attorney Michael Young is representing BECOL. BECOL director Lynn Young sat in on Friday’s session.


Categories: Chalillo Dam

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