SANTIAGO – Chile’s Supreme Court on Wednesday denied several appeals filed against the controversial HidroAysen hydroelectric project, although opponents say they will continue to fight plans to build five dams in a pristine area of Patagonia.
In a 3-2 ruling, the judges of the high court’s third chamber upheld an earlier decision by an appeals court in the southern city of Puerto Montt and rejected injunction motions filed by lawmakers, regional organizations and environmental groups.
The 2,750 MW mega-project, a joint venture of Endesa Chile, the country’s largest electric utility, and Chile’s Colbun, would involve construction of five dams at a cost of $3.2 billion.
The president of the Political Ecology Institute and member of the Council for the Defense of Patagonia, Manuel Baquedano, blasted the ruling, telling Efe it was “tainted” due to a conflict of interest.
“It’s tainted because one of the judges who voted is a shareholder in Endesa,” Baquedano said, referring to Justice Pedro Pierry, who owns 109,840 shares in the company.
For his part, Patricio Rodrigo, executive secretary of the Council for the Defense of Patagonia, said after the high court’s ruling that the project still must clear several other legal hurdles.
“We can’t be happy because the ruling was adverse ... but this was just one (of many legal) skirmishes,” Rodrigo said, noting that numerous other criminal and civil suits have been filed “over the irregularities” in the project-approval process.
The injunction motions were filed against a resolution by the environmental commission of the southern region of Aysen, which gave the go-ahead for the project in May 2011.
Opponents protested that ruling by staging mass marches in Santiago and other Chilean cities.
In its ruling Wednesday, the high court found the commission had not acted arbitrarily in approving the project.
The power stations are to be built on the Baker and Pascua rivers in an environmentally sensitive, sparsely inhabited area that is not connected to the country’s main power grid.
A $3.8 billion transmission line must be built to transport the electricity to Santiago and other cities in central Chile, involving construction of between 1,500 and 1,700 high-voltage towers over a distance of 700 kilometers (435 miles), according to the project plan submitted in December.
The transmission line, whose environmental-impact study still has not been submitted, must be approved before construction of the mega-project can commence. EFE