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Environmentalists celebrate as Chile dam plan is defeated

ENVIRONMENTALISTS claimed victory today after Chile’s government rejected an $8 billion (£4.77bn) proposal to dam Patagonian rivers to meet the country’s growing energy demands.

A ministerial commission rejected the HidroAysen plan, which would have dammed two of the world’s wildest rivers and built more than 1,000 miles of power lines to supply energy to central Chile.

Chile’s ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, economy and health voted unanimously to reject the project. 

The committee “decided to side with complaints presented by the community,” said Environment Minister Pablo Badenier. “As of now, the hydroelectric project has been rejected.”

The project would have built five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Aysen, a mostly roadless region of southern Patagonia.

Patagonia Defence Council executive secretary Patricio Rodrigo called the decision “the greatest triumph of the environmental movement in Chile.”

It “marks a turning point, where an empowered public demands to be heard and to participate in the decisions that affect their environment and their lives,” Mr Rodrigo said.

HidroAysen executives had promised that the Aysen region would get cheaper energy, jobs, scholarships and millions in infrastructure, including seaports and airports.

But people’s opinions in the area remained divided.

Only about three dozen families would have had to have been relocated but the dams would have drowned 14,000 acres, required carving through forests and eliminating whitewater rapids and waterfalls. 

They also could have destroyed habitat for the endangered southern huemul deer — fewer than 1,000 of the diminutive animals, a Chilean national symbol, are thought extant.

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