Environmentalist Candy Gonzalez made a rare filing in the Supreme Court this morning when she submitted a claim asking the court to issue an injunction that would stay the construction of the $105 million Vaca dam, a third hydro-facility that the Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL) has moved to build on the Macal River in Cayo.
Gonzalez, who said she practiced law in the United States, has filed as the vice president of the Belize Institute for Environmental Law and Policy Office (BELPO). If the court grants her plea for judicial review, she plans to argue the case herself.
Gonzalez and her husband, George Gonzalez, said that there should be no talk about building a third dam at Vaca when the environmental compliance plan for the second dam, Chalillo, is not being complied with. They say that they are particularly concerned that should the dam break, there is no emergency response system in place to ensure the safety of people living and doing business in the area.
BELPO has filed the case on behalf of concerned citizens of Cayo who fear the worst, Gonzalez told us, adding that there are also concerns over the testing of fish mercury levels and the possible health risks this could pose to those who consume fish from the river.
Judy DuPlooy, owner of the DuPlooy Jungle Lodge just five miles downstream the hydro-facility, told Amandala today that she has been concerned for a long time that there is no early warning system for her and other people in the area should there be a dam breakage, and they would not know of the danger until the waters were upon them.
A NEMO simulation of the dam breakage indicated that San Ignacio would become a largely inundated island, the three concerned citizens told us, adding that it would not cost much for a siren alarm system to be put in place to warn area residents in the event that a catastrophe does occur.
Gonzalez said that BELPO has gone to the court for an injunction, as well as a compliance order (or writ mandamus), ordering the Department of the Environment to enforce the country’s environmental laws that mandate BEL to comply with the environmental compliance plan and put in place a dam break emergency plan.
BELPO has listed the Chief Environmental Officer as the defendant, and the Director of Health Services, the National Emergency Response Organization (NEMO) and the National Meteorology Service (NMS) as interested parties.
The Chief Environmental Officer is again Ismael Fabro, who was removed from the position of Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources after the latest Cabinet reshuffle about a month ago. Fabro is out of the country at the moment, and Martin Allegria is acting in his place.
Allegria told us that he was not aware that the filing was made in the Supreme Court today. He confirmed to our newspaper this evening that the ECP does call for an emergency response system, but the DOE has no control over when that is accomplished, because it is NEMO and the NMS that are responsible for developing the emergency plan in collaboration with BECOL.
Gonzalez said that she had raised the issues of the emergency plan and fish mercury levels in every meeting of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC). However, since BELPO was informed in May that BELPO is no longer a member of the NEAC, the NGO now has to take up the matter in court.
BELPO’s members include a few attorneys practicing in Belize, including Antoinette Moore and Sharon Pitts-Robateau, as well as environmentalists such as president Godsman Ellis. Founded in 1995, the NGO claims that its mission is to promote the development, improvement and enforcement of environmental laws and policies for the conservation and sustainable use of Belize’s natural resources.