Platform Dams

Glenn Switkes

Rapids near site of proposed São Luiz Dam, Tapajós River
Rapids near site of proposed São Luiz Dam, Tapajós River
  Glenn Switkes, International Rivers

I just got back from the Tapajós River, where Eletronorte says it will construct the São Luiz Dam in essentially the same way that offshore oil platforms are built and operated. The company says it will avoid having large work camps invade the Amazonia National Park by mounting a platform at the dam site to house a rotating crew, which will return to the nearest city, Itaituba, every three days for R & R.

According to Luiz  Fernando Rufato, Superintendent for Generation Expansion of Eletronorte, "Besides avoiding the dam attracting people to an environmental protection area, the impacts will be limited to that 'surgical' deforestation needed for the work site and the dam, and those areas would be repaired following construction".

Eletronorte says its original plans were to build seven dams on the Tapajós, but that "important environmental limitations led the government to choose to build five dams instead." São Luiz do Tapajós Dam would be the largest on the Tapajós, with a generating capacity of 6,133 MW. The dams would have a total generating capacity of 10,682 MW.

Eletronorte's magazine "Direct Current" actually shows you photoshopped images of the exuberant rainforest being surgically incised for the dam's construction. The waters remain crystal clear, even as the river bank is denuded and concrete structures are assembled. The picturesque São Luiz rapids are bypassed by an artificial canal taking water to the powerhouse, preserving them just as before, even while the artificial canal runs parallel near the shore.

Eletronorte has yet to present its concept for "Platform Dams" to the community in the nearest city, Itaituba, and São Luiz, the town nearest the rapids. But, participants in a seminar on the planned dams organized by social and environmental movements in the region and church organizations were profoundly skeptical about Eletronorte's plans. Over 600 people met in two meetings and decided "Given the disrespect of our authorities for our people, we riverbank dwellers, family farmers, fishermen, indigenous people, socio-environmentalists, researchers, popular educators, youth, men, and women affected and threatened by the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex and other projects, have decided: We do not accept and we declare we are against the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex which, besides hurting our culture and environment, will bring us no benefits. All benefits will go to investors and Brazilian and foreign companies. We do not accept the fact that we are regarded as obstacles to Brazil´s economic growth, because we are Brazilians who will suffer all the consequences of these hydroelectric projects."

The gruel should get thicker when Eletronorte begins holding public meetings to explain its plans for Platform Dams on the Tapajós to the community, which has now taken its stand.