PANAMA CITY – The Panamanian government has halted construction of a hydroelectric power plant opposed by Indians as it investigates alleged environmental violations by Honduras-based contractor Genisa S.A., officials said.
Work at the Barro Blanco project will remain on hold “until the investigation of non-compliance with the environmental impact study is completed,” National Environmental Agency director Mirei Endara said in a press conference.
A high-level government commission reported more than a score of violations by Genisa.
Construction of the dam began in 2008 on the Tabasara River in Tole district, located some 400 kilometers (248 miles) west of Panama City, and is 95 percent completed on the $225 million project.
The hydroelectric power plant will generate 28.56 MW.
The Barro Blanco project has been a constant source of conflict with the Ngabe Bugle Indians.
While the dam is not on the Indians’ land, the reservoir will flood 5.6 hectares (13 acres) of land around the town during the rainy season.
The Tabasara River’s bed is home to a pre-Columbian petroglyph sacred to the syncretic Mama Tadta church that many Ngabe Bugle Indians follow and will be covered by the man-made lake’s waters.
The dispute with residents is the main reason that work on the dam has been suspended, Endara said.
Genisa has poured materials into the river, mismanaged solid and hazardous waste, and has not coordinated the use of explosives and flammable substances with the fire department, among other violations, Endara said.