Letters — 14 June 2013 — by Candy Gonzalez
Response to John Briceño’s letter on behalf of Fortis

Dear Editor,

Hon. John Briceño penned a Letter to the Editor that Fortis, Inc. used in a full page ad as part of their attempt to quash any objections to their purchase of C.H. Energy, in upstate New York.

One of the letters opposing the takeover was from Robert Kennedy, Jr., who spoke of Fortis’ record in Belize. Briceño felt “compelled to correct the errors in the commentary and present your readers with an accurate account of the developments that took place under my watch.”

Unfortunately, his “accurate account” is about as accurate as his pronouncements back in 1999-2008.

One has to wonder if Mr. Briceño even wrote this letter. The reason I say this is because he refers to the NEAC as the “National Environmental Assessment Committee.” The NEAC reviews all Environmental Impact Assessments. The Department of Environment was part of Briceño’s portfolio, Wouldn’t he know the NEAC stands for the “National Environmental Appraisal Committee”? He should know that but the article misnames it not once, but twice.

He states that there was complete disclosure and public consultations, but this is less than accurate. There was no full disclosure on the secret contracts that the government signed with Fortis until after BACONGO sued the Department of Environment and the Public Utilities Commission.

There was never a disclosure of the vast Maya archaeological sites that were in the area. There was no disclosure over the geology of the area – going so far as to take out the fault lines in the geological maps in the EIA.

As to rates, Briceño is parroting Fortis, who likes to say that Belize has the cheapest electricity in the Caribbean. That is misleading, since they are comparing island countries to Belize, which is in Central America. Belize has the highest electric rates of ALL Central American countries.

But the most egregious comments by Briceño come when he said, “. . . .continuous environmental monitoring . . . has confirmed that mercury levels in the Macal River have receded back to the levels that existed before the Chalillo Dam.” The monitoring has not been continuous and the levels of mercury in the fish are still far above the levels that should be eaten, in various species of fish.

A chart is attached showing levels of mercury in the fishes in August 2012, which is the only test done since the last mercury advisory dated May 2012. Mercury is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. Why is there delay in testing and delay in advising the public?

After repeated requests for information on water quality, mercury levels in the fish, the early warning dam break system and the meetings of the Public Participation Committee from the DOE, reports were sent last week. These reports demonstrate the lack of continuous monitoring, the problems with water quality tests and the heightened levels of mercury in the fishes that do NOT support the statements made by Briceño.

In fact, they show sloppy and infrequent testing, no meetings of the Public Participation Committee and questionable actions in terms of educating people on the dam break early warning system.

According to Sharon Matola, the population of the scarlet macaw will be gone in under two generations, due to the disintegration and loss of their breeding habitat. She says, “J. Briceño is not a biologist.”

Ask the people of Cayo whether or not the “Chalillo project has proven to be an example of balanced and sustainable development for which we are justly proud”, as Briceño states. We can’t swim in the river because it causes rashes and if the water is swallowed, people suffer stomach cramps. We can’t eat many of the fish from this river, due to excessive mercury levels – at least we shouldn’t, but the information is not easily available. Maybe Briceño has a better source of information than the public has.

Then he concludes that Belize needs “all the assistance we can get to develop our economies in an environmentally responsible manner. We do not need the barriers raised by extremists who put their narrow interests ahead of our country’s need to improve the quality of life for our people.”

We don’t need the kind of “help” offered by Fortis. Briceño’s entire letter is the type of attack Fortis likes to make to try and turn the tide of opinion. It is absurd and unbelievable. One must ask why Briceño would put his name to something like this.

Candy Gonzalez

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