A Chilean court on Monday ordered the suspension of a project to build a complex of five hydroelectric dams in the Patagonian wilderness, bowing to appeals by lawmakers and environmental groups.
The appeals court in the southern port of Puerto Montt ordered a stay which means the project is paralyzed until the essence of the matter is resolved, the judiciary said in a statement.
The 2.9 billion US dollar HidroAysen project, which belongs to the Spanish-Chilean consortium Endesa-Colburn, has sparked large and sometime violent demonstrations since it won government approval in May.
It involves the construction of five dams in two river valleys in Patagonia, and the flooding of some 6,000 hectares of pristine wilderness in a quest to generate more electric power for Chile's booming economy.
The government of President Sebastian Piñera argues the country needs the project to keep pace with energy demands and to head off looming shortages. Supporters say the complex would generate 2,750 MW, increasing Chile's electric power capacity by 20%.
But opponents say it would disfigure one of the last virgin territories on the planet, whose forests and glaciers and lakes are beloved by nature lovers the world over.
The Pascua and Baker rivers where the dams are planned to be built are the largest in Chile, with crystal waters fed by thousand-year old glaciers.
The project also includes construction of more than 2,000 kilometres of high-tension transmission lines and pylons that will carry electricity across nine regions of the South American country.
The path of the transmission lines has not yet been set, but it will not be a straight line, explains HidroAysen's executive director, Daniel Fernandez, adding parts of the line will be underwater to avoid national parks and scenic areas.
The project will need more than 5,000 workers who will be living in the remote area of Aysen for more than 10 years, effectively doubling the population of the region.