Country
Belize
Sources
InforMEA
Tagging
Environmental Impact Assessments, Wildlife
Abstract
BECOL, a Belizean company, was proposing to construct and operate the Macal River Upstream Storage Facility. The facility would include a dam and associated infrastructure on the Macal River to produce electricity and provide upstream storage capacity for an existing power plant. The proposed dam project was within the southern portion of a forest reserve and the northern part of a National Park. It was admitted that there would be potential loss of habitat and resulting wildlife impacts. The applicant assembled a number of objections against the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project and its consideration by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee and urged on the Court to hold that the decision of the Committee in the matter was unlawful. The applicant also challenged the decision of the Department of the Environment granting environmental clearance to BECOL in respect of the project. It argued that BECOL’s EIA for the project should have included a copy of a newspaper notice in accordance with the relevant statutory provision; that the Department of the Environment failed to determine whether the EIA complied with the previously agreed terms of reference; and that the EIA for the project was in fact an incomplete EIA. The applicant also sought to impugn the decision regarding the project as unreasonable and irrational. Finally, it was stated that the authorities had failed to require a public hearing on the project. The court analyzed each of the objections raised. It noted that there had been publication in more than one newspaper in circulation in Belize, of the fact of the submission of the EIA to the Department, with the requisite notice to the public. Furthermore, it was not of the view that there was a failure by the Department to examine the terms of reference for the project. Besides that, it was to be remembered that these were judicial review proceedings, and the court was not entitled to substitute its own judgment in place of the decision taken. The court’s role was to ensure that the decision complained against was not taken in breach of the requirement of the law. The authorities in charge had reviewed the EIA in question, and after some deliberation decided to recommend it. The EIA may or may not be the perfect EIA; this was not a matter for the court to decide. The body charged with that responsibility had come to its own deliberate conclusion on this issue. The decision was not unreasonable or irrational. It was not for the judges to decide what projects were to be authorized, but as long as they followed the statutory process, it was for the responsible authorities. However, the court directed that the Department should hold a public hearing on the dam project. The court concluded by emphasizing that environmental impact assessment was intended to enable decision-makers to make an informed choice between environmental and other objectives. The role of the Courts, of course, was not to make that critical informed choice; that was for policy-makers to do. But the Courts could ensure that the applicable rules were observed, including consulting the public where the case clearly warranted this. The court decided not to grant the reliefs sought by the applicant, but directed to hold a public hearing on the project.