San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Residents Protest Proposed Pacuare Dam

CARIBBEAN-slope residents, environmentalistsand members of area indigenouscommunities continue to protest theproposed construction of a hydroelectricdam on the Pacuare River, claiming theproject will foment death in the river andthe forest that surrounds it.The dam, which has been plannedsince 1996 and would begin operation in2012, would produce 158 megawattsannually, according to officials from theCosta Rican Electricity Institute (ICE),which is managing the proposed project.The dam would be built approximately 70kilometers east of San José.Opponents say the lake the dam wouldcreate would inundate much of the wildernessaround the river, including a part ofthe Alto Chirripó Indigenous Reserve,forcing those who live along certain portionsof the river to relocate.EUGENIO Guido, leader of theFriends of the Pacuare and one of thefounding members of the Association toSave the Pacuare – two groups fightingconstruction of the dam – said the manmadelake that would come as a result ofthe dam would submerge large portions ofthe communities of Progreso and Bajo dela Honduras, as well as the indigenouscommunities of Bajo Pacuar and Nimari.Guido, quoting the environmentalimpact study ICE submitted to the NationalTechnical Secretariat of the EnvironmentMinistry (SETENA), said Bajo Pacuarwould be the most seriously affected. Hesaid Bajo Pacuar residents would not onlylose many homes, but also land theydepend on for agricultural use.MEMBERS of the tourism sector alsoare calling for a halt to the project – thePacuare, a popular rafting destination, providessome 500 jobs directly related totourism and at least another 2,000 secondaryjobs, said Rafael Gallo, owner of the raftingcompany Ríos Tropicales, which operates onthe Pacuare.Gallo told The Tico Times the damagethe dam could do to the tourism industry inthe area “could be very, very grave.”“What they plan to do is control thelevel of water,” Gallo said. “There could belong periods without water or with toomuch water.”Lars Christensen, an independent raftingguide who has been working on the riversince 1994, said even if the flow of waterfrom the dam were enough to permit raftingafter its construction, “it’s not gonna be thesame at all.”WHILE Gallo said the dam would bedevastating to the tourism industry in theshort term, in the long term, parts of the virginarea could be completely destroyed.“In the long term, it is our children andgrandchildren who will be left with dirtywater. In the short term, our rafting andtourism, and in the long term, the world,”Gallo said.Mauricio Álvarez, an energy specialistwith the Costa Rican Federation for theConservation of the Environment (FECON),said the dam would have a profound impacton the culture of communities along the river.“The identity the people have with theriver is so huge,” Álvarez told The TicoTimes. “They’ve come to rely on it as asource of enjoyment, as something that mustbe protected for future generations.”OPPONENTS of the project claim thatICE has begun constructing access roadsalong the river without the respective permits.Álvarez, who said he has visited the site and seen the roads, claimed the practiceof clearing roads before obtaining officialpermission is commonly practiced bycompanies building hydroelectric dams.He said that in such cases, “It’s better toask forgiveness than permission.”He said FECON representatives filedan official complaint about the roads thisweek, alleging that ICE has obtained neithermunicipal permission nor the approvalof SETENA to begin work.SOME residents near the Caribbeanslopetown of Turrialba in early Augustlashed out against development of the damby burning ICE machinery, deflating tiresand verbally threatening workers.Álvarez speculated it was the roads,which wiped out portions of trails traditionallyused by local indigenous andfarming communities, that provoked thesabotage.The situation forced ICE to temporarilysuspend work on the project. No suspectshave been identified in the vandalism.Rogelio Zeledón, an ICE officialworking on the dam, defended the project,telling AFP wire servicethat Costa Rica“has an extremelyimportant hydroelectricpotential, of whichonly 19% has beentaken advantage of.”Zeledón and otherICE officials did notreturn numerousphone calls from TheTico Times requestingfurther informationabout the dam thisweek.RESIDENTS of eight different communitiesalong the river, including theindigenous community of Bajo Pacuar,have actively protested construction ofthe dam.Guido, of Friends of the Pacuare and theAssociation to Save the Pacuare, said thegroups have obtained the signatures of morethan 2,000 community members declaringtheir opposition to the project.Environment Minister Carlos ManuelRodríguez briefly mentioned the possibilityof declaring a portion of the river anational park last year – a move thatwould likely stop work on the dam (TT,Sept. 19, 2003).Officials from the Environment andEnergy Ministry (MINAE) this week saidthey are still conducting technical studiesto determine whether the zone warrantsdesignation as a national park.The studies would have to demonstratethere is sufficient biodiversity andthat the zone contains threatened orendangered species, said Jenny Asch ofMINAE’s Protected Areas Managementdivision.

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