January 15, 2016
The start of operations at Brazil’s Belo Monte dam could be held up following a court judgment that operators have yet to provide adequate support to indigenous groups affected by the giant construction.
The world’s fourth biggest hydropower plant was due to test its first turbines within weeks on a stretch of the Xingu river in the Amazon that is a centre of ethnic and biological diversity.
But even as the reservoirs begin to fill, the controversy that has dogged the project since its inception continues unabated, raising the possibility that completion – already years behind schedule – could be further delayed.
On Thursday, a judge in the federal court in Altamira, Para, suspended the dam’s license and levied a 900,000 reais (£155,000) fine against its owner, Norte Energia and the government for failing to build a safety net for local communities.
The court had previously ordered them to submit a plan that was supposed to include bolstering the local office of Funai, the national Indian protection agency, so that it could manage compensation and social support for indigenous groups in the region, who say the dam will cut water supplies and fishing stocks.
Judge Maria Carolina Valente do Carmo said this week that the company and the government had failed to meet this requirement.
The operators claim they have gone to great lengths to minimise the impact. Engineers say the 11.2 GW-power plant will operate at less than half capacity so that indigenous lands will not need to be flooded.
But opponents say the increase of noise, traffic, roads and migrants workers have already caused major disruption to local people and the environment.
Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accepted a suit against the Brazil government alleging that it – and the dam consortium – have failed to provide promised protection for local communities...