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Chile high court blocks new hydroelectric dam in Patagonia

The Supreme Court of Chile [official website, in Spanish] on Friday issued a ruling preventing the construction of a new hydroelectric dam in Patagonia. The dam was one of three hydroelectric plants proposed by Energia Austral [project website], a private joint-venture between Xstrata Copper and Origin Energy Limited, to supply power to nearby communities and copper mines. The court found [Reuters report] that the project failed to file a required land study despite the project's proposed construction in a legally protected area. The environmental advocacy group Chile Sustentable [advocacy website, in Spanish] welcomed the decision, and hailed it [press release, in Spanish] as "a tremendous achievement for the citizens."

The decision to allow the construction of dams in Patagonia has been a controversial one. In April the Supreme Court of Chile ruled [JURIST report] that a hydroelectric dam by HidroAysen [project website, in Spanish], a private Chilean venture, in Patagonia did not violate the constitutional rights of the environmental groups opposing the project. In June 2011 a Chilean appeals court ordered the temporary suspension [JURIST report] of the USD $10 billion HidroAysen project, approving three petitions challenging government authorization of the dam construction and granted the plaintiffs' petition for injunction. The court lifted the temporary suspension [Reuters report] in October 2011 allowing work on the project to move forward and spurring a constitutional challenge by environmentalists.

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