July 6, 2008
The Belize Institute of Policy and Law Organization (BELPO), a citizen lobbying group operating out of the Cayo district, has successfully secured a Supreme Court judgement against the Department of the Environment (DOE) for its failure to enforce an Environmental Compliance Plan (E.C.P.) against the multi-million dollar corporate giant BECOL.
Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh made the ruling Monday morning June 30, in which he ordered the DOE to enforce the E.C.P., which included putting in place proper emergency preparedness plan, testing of the Macal River and proper public awareness programs, particularly for those communities that could be directly affected by any mishaps caused by the Chalillo Dam.
The dam, which is located along the Macal River in the Cayo district, is owned by BECOL, and the DOE, as part of its environmental clearance for the construction of the dam, by law, laid out certain measures as part of the E.C.P. that BECOL must follow before, during and after the construction of the dam.
Those measures, argued Candy Gonzalez of BELPO, during the trial, were never met despite repeated efforts by her group to the DOE to enforce the law.
“We are very happy that the court has recognised the failure of the Department of the Environment to enforce the E.C.P., because all of the provision that we raised at the trial has to do with the safety of the dam, the water in the river, and the safety of those living in the communities,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, is a trained attorney from the United States, who represented BELPO at the trial. She pointed to a number of issues she said were shown not to have been complied with by BECOL, and that the DOE failed to enforce.
“We are concerned about the safety of the dam, about the health and safety issues, and if those things were addressed… there was no need for this case to go all the way to the court,” said Gonzalez.
“There is no warning system in place, and something has to be put in place. Recent flooding shows that if there is a major default at the dam, immediate actions needs to be done and there is no plan when it comes to those safety issues,” she told the Reporter.
Gonzalez made her case against the DOE on four specific issues namely the lack of water quality analysis, absence of adequate mercury level testing in the Macal River, little or limited public awareness programs, and the absence of an emergency plan of action if the dam breaks.
Chief Justice Conteh, for his part, ruled that the DOE, in accordance to law, must enforce the E.C.P. and for BECOL to obey the E.C.P.
He ordered that not only an emergency plans be put in place and publicised, but that quality water testing be done and made available to the public.
Gonzalez and her group had argued that BECOL has not done enough to determine the water quality in the Macal River, especially where the level of mercury is concerned for the consumption of fish in the area.
Justice Conteh has ordered that both the DOE and BECOL, which entered as an interested party, pay cost of court, which totaled $15,000.00.
BECOL, for its part, claimed that it has gone beyond the call of duty with regard to the E.C.P., that in of itself, has cost the company millions of dollars.
Categories: Chalillo Dam