What’s happening with the Patagonia Without Dams campaign in Aysen

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By Peter Hartmann
Translation by Benjamin Waters
 
As you may remember, HidroAysén, owned by ENEL and Colbún, has filed an appeal to the environmental tribunal against the ministerial committee's decision in June 2014 to block their project.  Last May, legal representatives from the company, the government and the Council for the Defense of Patagonia presented their arguments to the court. Its believed that the environmental tribunal in Santiago, where the case is being heard, could take up to a year to decide. After that, the most likely outcome is that whichever party loses it will appeal before the Supreme Court.
 
So, the judicial process still has a long way to go. Meantime, the company has reduced its activities to precisely these proceedings. Furthermore, the owners of the project made news when Jorge Rosenblut, president of Enersis, left the company due to his role in the illegal financing of political parties. Enersis and Endesa contributed more than three million dollars to political campaigns in the last election season. It is still not known to whom. Both companies were privatized during the "looting of nationalized industries" at the end of the dictatorship, at a loss of more than a billion dollars to the state treasury.
 
As for the Río Cuervo project, which is being developed by Energía Austral, co-owned by Glencore and Origin, it is still awaiting a decision from the government’s ministerial committee. Community and citizen organizations presented various arguments and complaints following the Regional Environmental Commission's approval of the environmental impact study (EIS) in September 2013. As the citizenry also sought a remedy of protection, Aysen citizen group Codesa lodged a claim before the environmental tribunal, and a kind of tacit agreement to sit it out arose, with involved parties keen to avoid embarrassment. Such was the situation in May 2013 when the Regional Environmental Commission approved the EIS, and then the Supreme Court – in the span of a week – overruled the commission and obligated the company to do a risk assessment which previously had only been “conditional.” The likely outcome is that if the courts and the environmental tribunal decide that the logical thing to do would be for non-judicial routes to be exhausted first, then it will up to the ministerial committee to resolve the petitions presented to them, with the environmental tribunal then pronouncing on some of the issues referred to them, which in turn will probably end up in the Supreme Court.
 
 
 
 
All this legal mumbo jumbo means that unless one of the losing sides gives up sooner, the dams issue still has a long way to run in the courts. Energia Austral was fairly active in its corrupt lobbying of the community and municipality this past summer, and now that the ministerial committee might have a role to play in the process, it has reduced its labor force to a minimum.
 
Thus, while the General Comptroller's office last week had some choice words to say to the municipality of Puerto Aysén, ordering an inquiry into funds received from Energía Austral (trip with directors and a congressman to Laguna San Rafael, a prize donated for the city's beauty contest, the tourist resort of Bahía Acantilada..anything else?), there is speculation that the ministerial committee will surely have to be called upon to review the claims previously investigated by the government’s environmental evaluation office. In fact, there is pressure coming from certain parties - for instance from the economy ministry’s investment committee - urging that the ministerial committee make a decision on the Rio Cuervo project as soon as possible.
 
Nevertheless, we maintain that the Rio Cuervo project is even more unviable than HidroAysén and that approving it solves nothing. It will neither provide energy quickly to the Interconnected Central System, nor will it create employment. Its construction depends on at least two other environmental impact studies, including one corresponding to a dam on the Blanco River, which lies above Puerto Aysén and whose inhabitants are in no way enamored with the idea. If the Cuervo River project increases risks in the area, then the Blanco plan is even worse as the active Hudson Volcano lies in the same basin.  And if the issue to decide here is the level of risk, then did you know that National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) stated in their official opinion that dams on the Cuervo River were unviable, but in order to ensure that this body ultimately gave a green light to the project, the former Sebastian Pinera government replaced its entire technical review team?
 
Peter Hartmann is director of CODEFF Aysén, president of Agrupación Social y Cultural Aysén Reserva de Vida, and coordinator of Coalición Ciudadana por Aisén Reserva de Vida.
 
 
 

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