Belize Dam Fight Heats Up as Court Prepares to Rule

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Environmentalists say that the cost is too high—environmentally and financially. "[Fortis's] contract with the Belizean government guarantees a 15 to 20 percent profit per year and doesn't even require them to produce energy," said Kennedy. "It will be the highest priced energy in Latin America."

Probe International and the NRDC say that people downstream from the dam would be threatened. According to Ari Hershowitz, director of NRDC's Biogems Program, Fortis's geological studies state that the site is granite, when it's really sandstone and shale. "The worst case scenario: The dam breaks, floods communities downstream and kills people." Fortis's contract guarantees that they can sell the dam to the government for $1 without liability, he adds.

Marshall argues that there is a proper foundation for the dam, and that the company's biological and geological assessments meet international standards.

But the animals have received the most attention. The dam would fracture the Mesoamerican Wildlife Corridor, a rain forest tract stretching from Mexico to Panama, established to protect migration routes and breeding grounds for wild cats, migratory birds, and other animals, said Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo and a principal in the lawsuit.

The valley is one of the only known nesting sites for a subspecies of scarlet macaw which numbers under 100 individuals in Belize—and provides the best habitat for jaguars, who roam 40 miles a day to hunt.

"This is the cradle for biodiversity in Central America, and arguably the wildest place left in the region," said Matola. "Trading off millions of years of biological evolution for a hydro scheme which, at best, would last 50 years, is an environmental crime of the highest degree."

This is the country's first-ever environmental lawsuit. "Belize's environmental laws have never been tested," said Hershowitz. A ruling on the two suits is expected around mid-July. But even then this fight may not be over.

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