Chile's supreme court has green-lit a controversial dam project in the Patagonia that could generate up to 20% of the country's electricity demand in 2020, but is opposed by environmentalists and local groups for the damage it will cause the region.
The highest legal authority in Chile rejected seven appeals filed against Project HidroAysén, which plans to build five dams, flooding 6,000 hectares. The government had approved the project last year but the case was taken to the supreme court after objections were raised over the environmental impact study.
Judges on Wednesday rejected all claims by opponents, including allegations that the study had failed to properly evaluate the effects on endangered Huemul deer, on the national park Laguna San Rafael and the dangers to people living downstream.
"This wasn't a surprise. We didn't have any confidence that the court was going to make a favourable decision," said Luis Mariano Rendon, co-ordinator of Acción Ecológica that last year organised protests of 40,000 people against HidroAysén in Santiago. "Unfortunately this means that once again citizen protests are only way that we have left to defend the Patagonia."
The dams will have a capacity of 2,750MW to power Chile's rapidly growing economy, and the government has said that hydroelectric energy will be crucial for the country's future energy security. But Wednesday's court decision is expected to spark further unrest, particularly in the Patagonian region of Aysén where many locals feel that decisions are being taken without their consent.
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