Chile: court suspends HidroAysen mega-hydro project

On June 20, the Court of Appeals in the city of Puerto Montt, Chile, ordered a halt to all construction and permitting processes for the controversial HidroAysén five-dam mega-project while a case against the project is pending. The case, jointly filed on June 9 by citizens and congress members, charges that HidroAysén’s environmental review, which was approved by authorities last month, was arbitrary, illegal, and violated constitutional rights of local inhabitants. The case would normally be heard by the Court of Appeals in Coyhaique, the capital city of the Aysén Region—where the dams are slated to be built, where the approval was granted, and where the appeal was filed. However, several of the justices who sit on the appeals court there recused themselves from the case due to conflicts of interest, and the case was moved to the neighboring region of Los Lagos. (See map.)

HidroAysĂ©n—a private venture formed by two of Chile’s largest energy companies, Colbun SA and the Spanish-owned Endesa—plans to build five dams on two of southern Chile’s most powerful rivers, the Baker and the Pascua, at a projected cost of $3 billion, to generate 2.75 gigawatts. The environmental review process for the project, which began in August 2008, has been plagued with procedural irregularities, evidence of corruption, and complaints that the mandatory public participation was a mere formality. After almost three years of review and over 15,000 pages of environmental impact assessment information, the company still failed to provide the relevant and essential information needed for approval. Critics charge that the full impacts of the project are still unknown, particularly because the environmental assessment never addressed the 1300 mile-long transmission line HidroAysĂ©n would have to build to carry the power fmor the remote region to the main grid further north. (International Water Power & Dam Construction, June 22; NRDC Switchboard blog, June 20)

See our last post on the regional struggles for control of water.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.