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Chile court orders temporary suspension of hydroelectric dam project

A Chilean appeals court on Monday ordered [judgment, DOC, in Spanish] the temporary suspension of a USD $10 billion hydroelectric dam project in Patagonia. HidroAysen [project website, in Spanish], a private Chilean venture, seeks to build five dams whose construction was approved [Santiago Times report] by the Chilean government in May. The Puerto Montt court approved three petitions challenging government authorization of the dam construction and granted the plaintiffs' petition for injunction. The plaintiffs allege that the project's approval process was rife with conflicts of interest and tainted by Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpete, who intervened in the approval deliberation process. Authorities also allegedly overlooked negative reports about the project by various government agencies. Senate President Guido Girardi, opponent of the dam project, said the approval process was arbitrary and guided by corporate entities [La Tercera report, in Spanish], and that the project was not in the country's interest.

In addition to the construction of five dams on two rivers, the project calls for the flooding [AFP report] of 15,000 acres of wilderness in order to generate energy for Chilean cities. Recent polls indicate that over 74 percent of the Chilean population are opposed to the dam project. Plebiscites, or citizen petition initiatives, are being conducted in several small towns to change local land-use ordinances in an effort combat further approval of the dam project. Chileans took to the streets and protested the project [BBC report] in May arguing that "the dams will have dramatically negative effects on an important wilderness."

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