Campaign Letters

October 2009 Campaign Letter

Probe International
October 25, 2009

Dear Friend,

A tragedy is unfolding in Belize’s breathtaking Macal River valley, until recently one of the most unspoiled places remaining in this hemisphere. The tragedy that is overtaking this tropical Central American rainforest is utterly needless and, with your help, we can stop further damage.

As you are reading this letter, pollution is spewing down the river from a Canadian-owned Chalillo dam. The owner of the dam, Fortis, a multinational corporation based in Newfoundland and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, refuses to accept responsibility for the massive sediment discharges, blaming the orange-brown contaminants on activities upstream of the dam. This claim is preposterous, as you can see in these photographs from our colleagues at the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy. It shows clear water wending its way down the Macal River to the dam. Immediately downstream of the dam, the water becomes orange and polluted.

Fortis has good reason to be in denial over this dam. Throughout its 11-year history, critics have warned that the dam was a boondoggle that would not perform as predicted. To our sorrow, the critics – the Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Government Organizations and Probe International among them – were all too correct.

As a result, this uneconomic dam is now doing great damage to the environment and to communities along the riverbank. Because the dam flooded their pristine habitat, the survival of the Scarlet Macaw, the jaguar and other species of singular beauty are now at grave risk. Because the contaminated water downstream causes skin rashes and is no longer fit for drinking, the downstream communities – too poor to truck in water – are now forced to rely on rainwater. Because the turbid water is hurting local fishers as well as Belize’s unparalleled niche eco-tourism, many Belizeans have also lost a source of food and their livelihood. With the polluted water now having reached the Caribbean, the damage to the environment may become greater still, with the country’s barrier reef at risk.

We have written to Stanley Marshall, President of Fortis, asking him to stop the pollution, to compensate the downriver communities, and to come clean on its activities to the citizens of Belize and to its shareholders in Canada. We know that Dr. Guy Lanza, professor of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, has also written to the responsible Belizean officials in the Department of Health, the Department of Environment, and the Public Utility Commission to demand an end to the pollution, saying that it “poses immediate risks to human health, livestock health, and the ecology of the Macal, Mopan, and Belize rivers.” To date, Mr. Marshall has refused to respond. Likewise, he has not responded to our colleagues in Belize, who are also pressing the Belizean government to enforce the environmental regulations that the dam is violating.

We need your help to make Mr. Marshall and Fortis accountable to the people of Belize and to stakeholders in Canada. Please write to him at the address below to demand that he stop the pollution from flowing downstream and find an ecologically sound solution to deal with the sediment. And please help us to keep the pressure on Fortis to follow Belize’s environmental laws, by supporting our work with a tax-creditable, charitable donation.

Fortis needs to know that Canadians are watching. With your help, Fortis will know it, and will be pressed to take action!


Patricia Adams
Executive Director

Please send a letter expressing your concerns to:

Mr. Stanley Marshall
President and Chief Executive Officer
Fortis Inc.
PO Box 8837
Suite 1201, Fortis Building
139 Water Street
St. John’s, NL A1B 3T2
FAX: (709) 737-5307

The Sorry History of the Chalillo dam in Belize

•    The campaign to stop the Chalillo dam begins in 1999.
•    Environmentalists warn that Chalillo will destroy endangered species’ habitat and major Maya archeological sites, be technically compromised, and uneconomic. Fortis perseveres nonetheless.
•    Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) secretly pays AMEC, a Montreal-based engineering firm, $250,000 to prepare a feasibility study of Chalillo justifying construction. U.S. author Bruce Barcott calls the report “a masterpiece of spin and obfuscation.”
•    AMEC fails to record geological faults and fractures in the project area and says bedrock at the dam site is “granite.” In fact, it is sandstones interbedded with soft shales which have poor load-bearing capacity.
•    London’s Natural History Museum hired by AMEC, predicts the demise of threatened species, and advises against construction of dam. Fortis ignores the warning.
•    Probe International demands that CIDA recall AMEC’s report and notify the Belize authorities that its conclusions are invalid. CIDA denies responsibility.
•    Environmentalists launch lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Belize which is then appealed to the Privy Council, Belize’s highest court of appeal, and loses by a slim margin.
•    Fortis completes construction of the Chalillo dam in 2005 and impoundment begins.
•    Fortis fails to fully comply with its legally required environmental compliance plan. In July 2007, Belizean environmentalists sue and win court case, ordering the government to monitor water quality in the Macal River, establish an emergency warning system to protect downstream residents in the event of a dam break, monitor levels of mercury in the fish and inform the public of findings.
•    Macal River water quality declines. Swimmers and bathers complain of stomach problems, itchy skin, and skin rashes.
•    Authorities warn people not to eat fish from the river because of possible contamination from methyl mercury, a toxin formed through bacterial synthesis in flooded soils and vegetation, which attacks the central nervous system in humans.
•    Sharon Matola, Director of the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre, reports that Scarlet Macaws still return to try and nest along the Macal River and its tributary, the Raspaculo, but their nesting trees are gone and the reservoir becomes “a big mud-hole” every dry season. Nesting boxes the government nailed to trees as a substitute are, says Ms. Matola, a “total failure.” BirdLife International predicts the Scarlet Macaw population will die out within a few years due to habitat loss and poaching by the recent influx of dam construction workers.
•    Under Fortis’s monopoly, Belizeans now pay more for their electricity than consumers in other Central American countries.
•    Summer 2009, shock sediment discharges begin to flow down the Macal River from the Chalillo dam, contaminating the river and marine systems downstream.
•    Belize environmentalists seek an injunction in the Supreme Court of Belize to stop the release of sediments.
•    September 2009, Belizean authorities discuss shutting down Chalillo’s operations to stop the sediment pollution.

To view 2009 Campaign letter, please click here

Categories: Campaign Letters

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