Court declares illegal the construction of the Los Maquis power plant in Aysen

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By Patricio Segura

Without the support of any public agency, residents from the small Aysen town of Puerto Guadal achieved an important citizen victory after Chile's environmental court on Friday declared illegal the construction and eventual future operation of the Los Maquis hydroelectric power plant in the emblematic waterfalls of the same name.  The sentence thus revoked a resolution of Chile's environmental authorities last December that rejected the complaint of part of the local community that claimed that the project should first enter the country's environmental impact assessment system.

The enviromental court, which is based in Valdivia, Chile, established that the construction of the plant – which intends to use the waters of the waterfall and according to complaints in the lawsuit has already caused negative environmental impacts to the cultural and tourist heritage during construction – was developed within an area under official legal protection as a Chelenko Zone of Tourist Interest (ZOIT), a tourism ministry designation that has as one of its objectives "the protection and valuation of its natural resources, identity and traditions, ensuring the sustainable development of its local communities."

"Res. Ex. No. 2423, dated December 7, 2020, issued by the Superintendency of the Environment is annulled, for not complying with the regulations in force, and the latter must issue the resolution that in law corresponds, according to what is considered in the present sentence," said in part the court's 45-page ruling.

"The ruling recognizes, in concrete terms, that the decision of Chile's environmmental superintendency office to file this complaint arguing that this project was not likely to affect the Chelenko Zone of Tourist Interest (ZOIT) is an illegal decision," said Erwin Sandoval Gallardo, one of the lawyers who filed the complaint on behalf of the affected community. 



The ruling establishes that the Chelenko ZOIT is not merely just an instrument of resource management with the purpose of promoting public or private investment in tourism in a given territory; rather, a ZOIT also has a clear objective of preserving and conserving the natural assets present in the area declared, and as such must be considered as an area subject to the nation's environmental impact assessment system. Therefore, the Los Maquis waterfall – its waterfalls, wells and surrounding area – are all part of the object of protection of the ZOIT.  And Edelaysén (of the Saesa Group, controlled by Canadian capital), by building its hydroelectric power plant, could affect this tourism attraction, which is why it can not go forward without an approved environmental impact study.  

Andrés Barría, one of the citizens who signed on to the legal complaint, said that "the conviction that we have always had as part of the Los Maquis Libre network and as residents of Puerto Guadal is that the historical value of the waterfalls and wells of Los Maquis was being threatened by the illegality and false development [of this project]."

Adds Barria: "We have received this news with great joy. We hope that the company Edelaysén will now repair the environmental damage they have already done to the site, considering that the Los Maquis waterfall is one of the most emblematic cultural, recreational and touristic sites in this area."



“We are very happy to obtain some kind of victory as citizens, because we feel that everything is against us all the time. The truth is that when they start to build a project of this magnitude, the residents and farmers don't know what to do, we don't know how to act as citizens or what paths to take," explained another of the citizen petitioners, Evelyn Quezada.  "But thanks to the fact that we were able to organize ourselves, we were able to raise a citizens' movement to preserve nature and the unique system of waterfalls in Chilean Patagonia. This is an emblematic place, and we must take care of the water."

In her opinion, this "is a precedent" and "the governmental entities responsible must listen to the people, listen to the citizenry, before letting large companies do whatever they want in Patagonia."

Chile's environmental agency now has 15 days to present a possible appeal before the Supreme Court.



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