Federal Court Suspends Public Hearings for Controversial São Manoel Dam

International Rivers
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cuiabá, Brazil

A Federal Court ordered the suspension of public hearings on the environmental licensing of the São Manoel Dam in Brazil, designed to be built on the Teles Pires River in the Amazon, on the border between the states of Pará and Mato Grosso . The hearings were scheduled for this Friday, September 27th, Sunday the 29th, and Monday the 30th, in the towns of Paranaíta, Jacareacanga, and Itaituba, respectively.

The site of the São Manoel Dam on the Teles Pires River.
The site of the São Manoel Dam on the Teles Pires River.

Federal judge Ilan Presser of Cuiabá accepted the urgent request of federal prosecutors from the states of Mato Grosso and Pará, deciding that hearings must remain suspended until studies that measure the impacts of the dam the indigenous Munduruku, Kayabí, and Apiakás peoples, are finished.

According to the federal prosecutors, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) approved use of the impact study despite a complete version never having been made available by.Brazil's Energy Research Company (EPE).

Maria Leusa Munduruku, a representative of the Munduruku tribe, explained that “the government did not want to speak with us nor listen to us. We were totally ignored, as was our constitutional right to free, prior, and informed consultation."

“With no understanding of the technical data on how indigenous communities will be affected, there can be no improvement to the mitigation requirements relevant to the cultures of the indigenous peoples,” the injunction stated.

Presser added that “Allowing for public hearings to continue would be akin to discussing the diagnosis of a patient's disease, and the surgical procedures to be adopted as a result, without first completing all necessary medical tests.”

Terms of Reference Ignored

In their request to suspend the hearings, federal prosecutors Felipe Bogado and Manoel Antônio Gonçalves da Silva in Mato Grosso, and Felicio Pontes Jr. , who works in Pará, reported that the impact studies were not carried out according to the terms of reference prepared by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). The institution is responsible for establishing the scope of studies that measure project impacts on indigenous peoples.

“The document was not delivered in its entirety as required by the terms of reference. That is, the impacts of the project on indigenous peoples are not yet known in their entirety,” says the text of the injunction.

According to FUNAI, the environmental impact assessment of the São Manoel Dam lacks significant information about proposed mitigation plans, including plans to protect the integrity of indigenous territories and areas of uncontacted indigenous people, measures to mitigate health impacts, plans for participatory monitoring of water quality and for wildlife and fish species, and training, education, and income generation programs, among other items.

For the federal prosecutors, the poor environmental impact assessment and lack of mitigation actions are even more serious given that the licensing process has been marked, according to FUNAI's own “by conflicts and tensions, and direct confrontations.” Still, the prosecutors note, the indigenous studies have been driven forward incompletely, “just to check off a box.”

If the court order is violated, the estimated fine is $100,000 per day.

Earlier in September, another federal judge suspended the construction of the upstream Teles Pires Dam due to “unforgivable failures” on the part of project developer Eletrobras in the environmental licensing of the project, citing negligence in studying the dam's impacts on indigenous people.

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