Victory in the fight to keep the Puelo flowing free

On 29 December 2017 the Supreme Court of Chile confirmed the lower Court’s rejection of the developer’s environmental and indigenous rights review for a hydropower project on the Puelo River. This is likely the nail in the coffin for a project that threatened to destroy the traditional way of life for native peoples on the Puelo. Read the verdict here.

Located at the Northern edge of Chilean Patagonia, the magnificent Puelo flows free, without dams to harm its beauty, the culture of the communities surrounding the watershed, or the ecosystems that have evolved there.

The approval process for the dam initially followed the dismal path all too common in Latin America. Administrative agencies approved the initial Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submitted by developer Mediterráneo in 2015. 

Local indigenous and environmental activists sued to challenge the decision, based on Mediterráneo’s failure to consult local people or consider all social and environmental impacts. The challenge succeeded in 2016 with the lower Environmental Court showing courage and respect for the rule of law in holding that the EIS neither considered nor consulted the local and indigenous people, and thus violated Chilean requirements. Mediterráneo appealed the Environmental Court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Chile. Late last year, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Court’s decision rejecting Mediterráneo’s EIS as inadequate and inconsistent with consultation requirements.

This victory’s significance is twofold. First, it will likely kill the project. Chilean law gives 5 years for the project to be completed from its initial date of approval. Mediterráneo’s 5-year window is nearly up—and expiration will compel Mediterráneo to start the permitting process all over again to proceed with the project.

Second, the decision carries great precedential impact for similar cases in Chile. In rejecting the EIS, the Chilean Supreme Court sets a high standard for approval of hydro projects that considers social and environmental impacts, and includes genuine consultation with the local people harmed by the dam.  

Last Friday marked a huge victory for LDF partner Puelo Patagonia, a nonprofit that strives to preserve the natural landscape of the Puelo and the cultural heritage of the local people. LDF is proud to have supported Puelo Patagonia, whose tenacity made this win possible. But, as Macarena Soler, lawyer for Puelo Patagonia pointed out after the verdict came out, “‘the water rights still belong to Mediterráneo and the river basin is not definitively protected. IRLA SA holds the mining rights in the basin and we have not forgotten the damage they have caused along the way. We will stand firm in confronting all the Mediterráneos that come our way”’.

Last updated February 13, 2018

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