San Pedro Columbia villagers upset about proposed dam

Extracted from Channel5Belize.com
Date: November 5 2009
In the deep south, residents of San Pedro Columbia are vocal against the building of a hydro dam in their community. Research work has already begun by the company, Belize Hydro-electric Company, and at a meeting last Sunday called by the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, an assessment was presented outlining substantive damages to the area, including the Bladen Reserve. Marion Ali travelled to the village on Wednesday and files this report.

Marion Ali, Reporting
San Pedro Colombia Village is located about twenty miles from Punta Gorda. It is a village whose residents still practice their traditional way of life, relying heavily on the forest for medicine and the river for water for drinking, washing and bathing. So when they began noticing heavy duty equipment moving into their forests unannounced, it troubled them.

Zenovia Requeña, Villager
“That can’t work with us because we noh need no electricity because still yoh have to pay for it, it’s nothing free, and we need the water. Water is important to our life.”

Jorge Coc, Alcalde, San Pedro Columbia Village
“The people don’t want the dam to be built in the forest because we are seeing the problem that San Miguel have with water and we don’t want it to destroy our river.”

Alcalde Jorge Coc and villager Zenovia Requeña feel that the building of a dam will have the same effect on the river as another dam two miles away in San Miguel Village. And what impact did the building of a dam in San Miguel have on the quality of the river water?

Craviy Kus, Villager, San Miguel
“We see the problems but we can’t help it because the hydro di work.”

Marion Ali
“What’s the problem?”

Craviy Kus
“The water is very dirty. The ladies when they wash, maybe an hour time the water rise and the rocks gone down.”

Clementina Kus, Villager, San Miguel
“Ih dirty, when ih rain ih worse.”

Marion Ali
“This is since the dam was installed?”

Clementina Kus
“Yes and ih hard fi we wash, we have to fix our rock because everyday we go to the river and wash.”

Marion Ali
“You feel that will happen here as well?”

Jorge Coc
“Well sure, because that’s the same river branch that we use.”

Marion Ali
“Have you seen any change in the river since the research work started?”

Zenovia Requeña
“Yes because the other day some oil mi deh in between the water pan top.”

But the environmental impact is not the only reason why the villagers of San Pedro Columbia object to the building of the dam. They say they were disrespected.

Jorge Coc
“No one come and told us what’s going on, that’s why the people are trying their best to fight where they get their permission when they went there.”

Marion Ali
“Have you been able to reach your representatives here?”

Jorge Coc
“Yes, Minister Coy said he don’t know about it.”

Marion Ali
“Did anybody come and say listen, we’re planning to approve a project for a dam behind here?”

Tomasa Ash
“No.”

Marion Ali
“Nobody came? Not last year, not the year before, not even this year?”

Tomasa Ash
“No I don’t hear of nothing. They just come and do what they want.”

But while the villagers are protesting en masse against the building of the dam in their community, their objections might be too late. In December of 2008 Prime Minister Dean Barrow signed this concession agreement with Hydro Maya. The document served as an endorsement for the company’s efforts to seek permits for purposes of research. But it appears that the Belize Hydro-electric Company had begun doing research even before they obtained a permit.

Bartolo Teul, Prog. Mgr, Ya’axche Conservation Trust
“When we went to investigate we found out in July, August that they did went in there and they did not have any relevant permit from the Forest Department, nor the Department of Environment when they went in the first time.”

Marion Ali
“But they have a concession from in 2008 signed by the Prime Minister himself.”

Bartolo Teul
“Yes, that concession agreement, inside that document it stipulates clearly that the owners had to get the relevant permit from the relevant authorities that manage these areas before they could go in.”

Marion Ali
“Have you ascertained that they don’t have a permit?”

Bartolo Teul
“We did ascertain that at that time they did not have any permit when they went in July. However, just a couple weeks ago we were informed that they were given a research permit. It is dated the thirteenth of October.”

Another issue raised by environmentalists is that the area being tampered with is situated within a nature reserve.

Wil Maheia, Environmental Activist
“The Bladen Nature Reserve, which is such a fragile eco-system that is praised internationally, praised globally because of its diversity, and just having somebody going in there and destroying it to put up hydro power, which does not reduce electricity rates for Belizeans to start with, then I feel that is something very wrong.”

Bartolo Teul
“It is right on the boundary between the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.”

Marion Ali
“And what’s your position on that?”

Bartolo Teul
“As far as we are concerned, as co-manager of the Bladen Nature Reserve, we felt a bit disappointed that we were not fully informed and got involved in the issuance of this permit. Secondly, our policy with the Forest Department is that when any researcher goes into the Bladen Nature Reserve, there has to be some strict monitoring. I can tell you now that I’ve been informed that they went in on Monday and no member of the Forest Department is along with them. So that posed a concern to us as co-managers.”

Programme Manager of the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, Bartolo Teul says what has villagers even more skeptical is that information on the scope of the research is hard to come by.

Bartolo Teul
“At the meeting Sunday people asked him what exactly are you doing when you say you are doing studies. He refused to give any details.”

Marion Ali
“He as in…”

Bartolo Teul
“The local manager, Mr. Jeff Hansen, for the Belize Hydro-electrical Company.”

News Five contacted the Forest Department twice today to find out more from Chief Forest Officer, Wilbur Sabido about the project. But he was not available. Meanwhile one of the villagers has suggested that solar energy is an alternative to meet the growing demands of electricity supply. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Meanwhile the assessment carried out by Ya’axche Conservation Trust says that numerous large trees and slopes have been cleared, and that the reopening of roads caused the blockage of waterways. The assessment also says that in clearing the roads, accessibility to the Bladen reserve was increased which in turn facilitates the entrance of hunters and the depletion of local wildlife. The value of damages is put at close to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. We would like to thank Wil Maheia for providing us with pictures taken at Sunday’s meeting.

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