Amazon dam operator defies order to shut down, police action looms

Photograph: Roosewelt Pinheiro / Agência Brasil

The legal troubles surrounding the Belo Monte dam and Norte Energia, the consortium that is building and operating it, continued this week, with Brazilian litigators promising to use federal police to enforce a court order to shut down the dam if Norte Energia does not immediately comply with the litigation.

In mid-September, a federal court in Brasilia ordered the suspension of Norte Energia’s installation license. The decision went into effect when it was published in the Brazilian government’s Official Judicial Registry on September 20th. The ruling was exceptional in that it authorized the use of police action to enforce the decision, if the consortium failed to shut down the dam. The September 20th ruling allocates a fine of R$100,000 (US$31,500) for each day that Norte Energia fails to comply.

In 2011, the government made an agreement with Norte Energia to properly manage the resettlement process for more than 20,000 people displaced by what was designed to be the third-largest hydropower project in the world. The court has now suspended the installation license due to violations of that agreement stemming from inadequacies in the housing Norte Energia assigned to those displaced, which included indigenous and traditional people living beside and near the Xingu River.

The case, filed by the Federal Public Ministry in 2015, argued that the consortium reneged on its initial pledge to provide three different size homes to accommodate families of varying sizes. It also argued that the promise to resettle people within two kilometers of their original homes was broken. The Brazilian news site UOL reports that there are 21 different lawsuits pending against the Belo Monte consortium.

In a press release issued at the time of the September 20th ruling, Norte Energia argued that its operating license supersedes the installation license that the court suspended. It also said that the decision changed little in practice since the dam has been operational since early 2015. Construction on the facility is, however, still incomplete and not expected to finish until 2019.

Asked to comment on the stipulation that police could be used to enforce the cease and desist order, Norte Energia said that it has not as yet had access to the decision. The consortium reiterated its position that the terms of its operating license allows it to continue running the facility, despite suspension of the installation license.

Federal prosecutor Felicio Pontes, who was involved in the case, told Mongabay that since the decision has been published in the judiciary’s official publication, the ruling is already in effect, regardless of whether it has been delivered to the company.

Pontes told Mongabay that the ruling: “is the only way to get the company to respect the rights of those affected by the project. For this reason, the Public Ministry wants installation halted immediately.”