Community of Guadal demands environmental evaluation of Los Maquis hydroelectric project

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By Patricio Segura
Translated by Nancy Moore
 
More than 50 community members submitted a formal complaint against Edelaysén for building a hydroelectric plant at the former tourist attraction, Cascada Los Maquis, without subjecting the project to the Chilean Environmental Impact Evaluation System (SEIA).  The project is located near the shores of Lake General Carrera just 5 kilometers from the village of Puerto Guadal and within the precinct of Chile Chico.
 
The project’s construction, which has been halted since March due to the pandemic, was slated to restart the first week of July. On Tuesday, June 28, the community’s complaint successfully postponed the restart date. That day, the project’s general manager Marcelo Bobadilla, spoke with the community via videoconference and vowed to not reinitiate construction during the state of emergency.
 
In response to the complaint, the Environmental Superintendent of Aysén, Oscar Leal Sandoval, visited Puerto Guadal on Wednesday, July 1 with the goal of exploring details related to the complaint. 
 
One of the central points of discussion, as much for the Environmental Superintendent’s office as for the Environmental Evaluation Service (SEA), is whether the project is required to undergo an environmental impact evaluation or not.  When the company inquired with SEA last August, the response was that an evaluation wasn’t necessary based on Article 10, letter C of Law 19.300, wherein the guidelines for evaluation stipulates that “hydroelectric projects that generate more than 3 megawatts” must undergo evaluation; the Los Maquis plant is projected to generate only 1 megawatt.
 
 
Cascada Los MaquisCascada Los Maquis
 
 
Cascada Los MaquisCascada Los Maquis
 
 
However, within the same law, letter P states that projects should undergo evaluation if their execution is within “national parks, national reserves, natural monuments, pristine reserves, natural sanctuaries, marine parks and reserves, and any other area under official protection, in cases where the respective legislation so permits.” The Los Maquis hydroelectric project is located within the designated Tourist Interest Zone (ZOIT) Chelenko, which forms the basis of locals’ argument that it should require environmental impact evaluation, including citizen participation in the process. 
 
During Leal’s visit, he met with around 20 residents who had signed the complaint and subsequently traveled to Los Maquis job site where he spoke with legal consultant Erwin Sandoval Gallardo and community leader Cristián McKay, the two representatives chosen by the community.  The company limited authorization to only two community members during the visit, even refusing entry to journalists, citing safety concerns, while at least six Edelaysén workers were present. 
 
At the site, several aspects of the community’s written complaints were confirmed, including interventions that were never communicated to the Environmental Impact Service (SEA) when Edelaysén inquired about the initial need for an impact study or declaration. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“We were able to confirm, in conjunction with the environmental authority, the environmental impacts that this project has generated, without any evaluation of those impacts,” explained Erwin Sandoval.  They confirmed, for example, “the construction of several roads within the job site, of which there is no record in the original proposal submitted to authorities.”
 
They also confirmed the “impact on species in native forests, and the complete destruction of what was the old machinery house, an old building which the community had reclaimed as having cultural significance and which also contributed to tourism.  Now it is completely destroyed,” explained the legal consultant. 
 
Regarding the visit’s outcome, Cristián Weber says, “We’re satisfied that the inspector has confirmed our concerns and we hope to advance with legal measures.  We hope for a positive ruling, and we believe our arguments were evidenced upon visiting the construction site.”
 
Erwin Sandoval expressed the community’s interest in formulating charges against Edelyaysén for having begun construction without subjecting the project to the environmental evaluation process. At the same time, they would like the evaluation process to begin, including formal and institutional instances of citizen participation. 
 
Edelaysén belongs to the Saesa Group, controlled by Electricity Investments S.A., a partnership financed in part by Canadian groups Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and Alberta Investment Management Corp. 
 
 
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