The Privy Council of London, which serves as Belize’s highest court of appeal, has heard its first environmental case since it was established 500 years ago. The appeal, which challenged the approval of a flawed Environmental Impact Assessment, was brought by advocates in Belize seeking to protect the Macal River valley from the ill-advised Chalillo Dam project. The appeal was rejected in January, by a vote of 3-2, but represented an important milestone for advocates in Belize and around the world seeking a wider audience for their campaign to protect Belize’s rainforests.

ELAW advocate Candy Gonzalez, with the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), says the Chalillo Dam would produce over $1 billion in profits for a foreign-owned electric company, Fortis of Canada, and produce, at most, seven megawatts of power.

A dissenting judge on the Privy Council wrote: "The EIA was so flawed by important errors about the geology of the site as to be incapable of satisfying the requirements of the EPA and the Regulations."

Responding to the Privy Council decision, Candy said, "The fight is not over. This is a setback, not a defeat. Other legal avenues are being investigated."

ELAW U.S. staff attorneys and scientists have provided valuable legal and scientific support to Candy and other advocates in Belize challenging the proposed dam.

If built, the dam would flood over 2,400 acres of pristine rainforest and destroy the habitat of many rare and endangered species, including the only known breeding grounds of the Scarlet Macaw. The dam would also flood undocumented Mayan ruins, destroying forever the cultural history and valuable knowledge of the Mayan People.

The Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs (BACONGO) filed suit against the Government of Belize for failing to follow EIA regulations. The Supreme Court of Belize ordered a public hearing, but did not overturn the approval of the EIA. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals, and not overturned. The matter was appealed to the Privy Council in London in December.

Communities in Belize have held off construction of the dam for the last six years, and BACONGO has helped establish an important precedent that an NGO can represent communities in Belize courts.