EcoAlert: Chile’s Supreme Court Votes to Dam Two of World’s Last Pristine Wild-River Habitats



Chile's Supreme Court Wednesday removed the last legal obstacle to building a giant $2.9 billion hydroelectric complex in the Patagonian wilderness, rejecting a bid by environmentalists to block it. The highly controversial project, which environmentalists say will wreck a unique and pristine habitat in the southern tip of South America, sparked violent protests last year.

The vote threatens the Aysén region of Chilean Patagonia with a plan to build five dams on the Baker and the Pascua rivers – two of the wildest most pristine rivers on the planet. Before it reaches a fjord that links it with the Pacific Ocean, the Pascua races for forty miles between the two largest ice-fields on Earth outside Antarctica and Greenland, cutting its path between two jagged mountain ranges. Born in South America's deepest lake, the Pascua is one of the fastest rivers in the world, embedded in a maze of canyons draining snow-capped peaks and glaciers. 

It’s also one of the most secluded. Today there is only one road that will take you anywhere near the Pascua. Known unofficially as ‘Pinochet’s Road’ for the former Chilean dictator who pushed for its construction, the road is officially named after the military work camp at its end: O'Higgins.

The Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (Rave), an initiative of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), set up to address the challenges of modern conservation, visited the area in February this year to assess what impact the dams would have on the surrounding area and its way of life.
The expedition team included the Pulitzer prize winner and National Geographic photographer Jack Dykinga and twice World Press winner and Prince's Rainforest Project award winner Daniel Beltra.

The three dams on the Pascua River (above) would create artificial lakes flooding more than 1,600 hectares (about 4,000 acres). Flooded lands would include some of the world’s rarest forest types, including the critically endangered plants. Other rare species that would be harmed by the Pascua dams include the torrent duck and the white-bellied seedsnipe.

The high court "confirmed it was rejecting" an appeal by green campaigners to halt the $2.9 billion HidroAysen project of Spanish-Chilean consortium Endesa-Colburn, a court spokesman said.The decision upheld an October 2011 finding by a lower court that gave the green light for the project to generate 2,750 megawatts of power from five dams in two river valleys in Patagonia.The plans involve flooding 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) of largely uninhabited land in a quest to generate more electric power for Chile's booming economy.

"The project is at a stage at which work is going on constantly," said HidroAysen attorney Mario Galindo. "There are studies, environmental impact studies… and it is all moving ahead normally."But the project still needs approval from the government, after which construction would not begin until 2014, lasting about 10 years.

And environmentalists opposed to the plans said they would take their quest to derail the project to international bodies if needed.

Matias Asun of Greenpeace-Chile said "the project makes no sense environmentally. And it should not go ahead. So we will keep mobilizing alongside thousands of Chileans opposed" to it."Well, we are not happy with a negative ruling. But this is just a partial defeat," Patricio Rodrigo with No Dams Patagonia told CNN Chile.

Attorney Marcelo Castillo said the ruling was already being reviewed with an eye toward seeking international court involvement in the case.

The Daily Galaxy via and


"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily