Belize judge denies injunction against 18-MW Vaca

A Belize judge has denied a request for an injunction to halt construction of the 18-MW Vaca hydroelectric project but will allow judicial review of the proposed project on the Macal River in Belize.

Belize Electric Co. Limited (BECOL) received all major approvals for construction of Vaca in May. China’s SinoHydro Corp. has been mobilizing to begin construction. (HNN 6/4/07)

However, the Belize Law and Environmental Policy Office (BELPO) filed suit against the project, asking that construction of Vaca be halted until BECOL complies with the environmental compliance plan for its sister project, 7.3-MW Chalillo, which was completed on the Macal in 2005.

Belize newspaper Amandala reported that BELPO alleged Chalillo lacks an emergency preparedness plan in the event of a flash flood, and has no mercury testing downstream of the dams, particularly of methyl mercury in fish.

The defendant Department of Environment (DOE) said its administration of the Chalillo requirements has been dependent on other agencies that have delayed the process. For that reason, DOE said requirements for Vaca are different and allow DOE to contract with independent parties to complete such work.

Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, who heard arguments July 20, denied BELPO’s request for an injunction to halt Vaca, but said he would grant leave for the group to file for judicial review. Once that application is filed, the court is to set a date for proceedings.

BECOL, a unit of Fortis Inc. of Canada, has signed a 50-year agreement with Belize Electricity Ltd., another Fortis unit, to sell power from the US$52.5 million project beginning in 2009. Vaca is the final phase of a three-phase development on the Macal to maximize its hydroelectric potential. Upstream from Vaca, Chalillo generates 30 gigawatt-hours annually and helped increase generation of the third project, 25-MW Mollejon, to 135 GWh from 80 GWh.

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