Madeira Projects Continue to Raise a Stink

Fish Killed by Santo Antonio Dam Construction
Fish Killed by Santo Antonio Dam Construction
José Carlos Sá
Indications are clear that the consortia building the Madeira River dams will attempt to go about their dirty business any way they see fit.

First, the Madeira Energética (MESA) consortium building São Antônio Dam was fined US$ 3.3 million for killing 11 tons of fish in December after beginning work on the cofferdam. Workers improvised masks to lessen the stench.

The consortium, headed by Odebrecht, attributed the disaster to an abrupt temperature change, and said only six tons had been killed of mostly smaller fish, not the river catfish whose survival the project may compromise. Ricardo Alves, Sustainability Manager for MESA said "the retention of fish during construction of the coffer dam is a predictable phenomenon, but what's hard to predict how many will be affected. The numbers in the Amazon are all really huge".

Now, it's the turn of Energias Sustentáveis, the consortium building Jirau Dam upstream, which cleared 18.65 hectares of the rainforest in an area destined for permanent preservation, and was slapped with a US$ 210,000 fine this week from Ibama.

These penalties are well-and-good, but the devastation of the Madeira is well underway. And, if there continue to be serious violations of environmental rules, what judge will be willing to shut down the operations when the companies and the Lula government argue that Brazil must get energy from the Madeira on-line as quickly as possible, or risk a national blackout?