Outside Magazine features our Patagonia BioGem in its June issue

Our campaign to protect Patagonia has caught the attention of international media again, this time in the June issue of Outside Magazine (available in stores this week).  In his feature article, author Patrick Symmes takes an on-the-ground, close-up look at the major environmental controversy swirling around HidroAysén’s proposed mega-dam scheme in this pristine region of Chile.  His conversations with the people living there and his experiences while traversing the countryside paint a vibrant picture of what Patagonia stands to lose if these dams are built.  Yet he misses a few key issues, which I’d like to briefly highlight here.

First, Symmes implies that this fight is nearing its close when he writes, “the next step is also the last:  HidroAysén has submitted an environmental impact assessment, which must be approved by a regional commission.”  Even if HidroAysén’s proposal is approved by the regional environmental commission, it is not the last step; several other steps remain where the project can be defeated.  The environmental approval itself could be appealed by the dams’ opponents.  The environmental impact assessment for the transmission lines still needs to be submitted, and will begin a new—and what will very likely be a lengthy and arduous—review process.  Plus, HidroAysén does not have all of the water rights it needs to construct the dams; the case is still pending in the General Water Directorate.

Then, there is the issue of funding:  yesterday, the Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported that the new projected price tag for the entire dams-and-transmission-line scheme is US$7 billion.  The dams will now cost $4 billion, and the power lines rose to $3 billion following the February 27th earthquake.  To put this in context, one year ago HidroAysén said the dams would cost $3.2 billion and the lines would be $1.8 billion.  Even the Endesa Chile and Colbún, two of Chile’s largest energy companies and co-owners of HidroAysén, would need to look for outside funding to such a large price tag.  The major international bank BBVA already publically stated it will not finance such an unsustainable project, setting a clear and easy precedent for others to follow.  So the question of funding provides yet another obstacle to the scheme’s completion.

To date, our campaign against HidroAysén been very successful in fending off construction by constantly pushing for stringency in each phase of the environmental review process.  When the project was first submitted for environmental approval in August 2008, its proponents planned to begin building the first dam in 2010.  Twice now Chile’s state agencies have said the company’s environmental impact documents were lacking essential information and could not be approved, effectively delaying HidroAysén’s construction timeline.  The third round of the process will take place this July and August, when the company submits the newest Addendum to its environmental impact assessment – creating yet another chance for delay.

Finally, the Outside article underscores the truly good work done by several remarkable individuals, but does not mention that this campaign has thousands – actually, tens of thousands – of supporters committed to the fight.  The largest of the (many) Patagonia Sin Represas Facebook Pages has over 72,000 members; the Patagonia Sin Represas Facebook Cause has over 63,000; the number of Twitter followers has skyrocketed over the past few weeks, as has membership on the Patagonia Sin Represas webpage itself.  This extraordinary support deserves recognition, all the more so because it comes from both inside Chile and out.

With these complementary points in mind, please read Patrick Symmes’s feature piece in the latest issue of Outside Magazine, and visit the Outside website’s accompanying gallery of photos as well.  Together they bring home the underlying message of article and the campaign as a whole:  as Symmes simply puts it, “there should be such places.