NRDC members, e-activists win round one in battle to save BioGem in Belize, as U.S. company pulls out of dam project

NRDC Protests Firing of Environmental Activist in Belize

NEW YORK (February 6, 2001) - Following several months of member activism aimed at Duke Energy Group, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) learned last week that the American-based utility company was pulling out of a dam project in Belize that threatens unique habitat for jaguars and other rare species.

According to NRDC, Duke Energy’s move raises even more questions about the environmental and economic soundness of the proposed Chalillo Dam on the Upper Macal River in western Belize. Duke Energy’s decision came in the wake of its receiving tens of thousands of messages from NRDC members condemning the company for its expected involvement in the project.

In January, NRDC stepped up its efforts to stop the Chalillo Dam with the launch of an Internet-based initiative ( focusing on 12 "BioGems" in North and Central America, including the Macal River in Belize, which are under threat by government or corporate development schemes.

According to Jacob Scherr, director of NRDC’s international programs and BioGems coordinator, NRDC will focus on Fortis Inc., a Canadian multinational, which bought out Duke’s interest in the Chalillo Dam. Fortis is already the majority owner of Belize Electric Ltd., the country’s only electric utility.

"This is a perfect example of how individual citizens can bring pressure on a major corporation to drop a wrongheaded project," Mr. Scherr. "Now that Duke is out, we’re hopeful the public will help convince Fortis to reconsider and abandon plans for the dam."

Mr. Scherr explained that the Macal River Valley is one of the most vital and biologically diverse habitats in Central America. It is home to an endangered subspecies of the Scarlet Macaw, Morelet’s crocodile, tapirs, and jaguars. Scientists consider the Macal River Valley to be crucial to saving the jaguar for future generations.

NRDC also protested the summary dismissal of Kimo Jolly, a teacher at Sacred Heart Junior College in San Ignacio, Belize and outspoken critic of the Chalillo Dam project. He is the top independent expert in Belize on the economics and environmental impacts of the dam. Mr. Jolly leads the Concerned Citizens Coalition, a grassroots group in Belize, in opposing the dam.

"We fear that Kimo Jolly’s sudden dismissal was in retaliation for his environmental activism -- a patent violation of his basic rights," said Mr. Scherr. "We stand behind our friend and colleague now, and urge that he be immediately reinstated and free to speak out in defense of the environment."