When the mining locomotive passes Dibulla it will leave the black mark of progress, of coal, on this territory rich in biodiversity. This peasant community, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, is known for its beautiful landscapes, which showcase a never-ending flirtation between the snow-capped Sierra Mountains and the Caribbean Sea.
The characteristics of its ecosystem – its mangroves and marshes – are unique in the world. It is also a habitat for endangered species, such as the American crocodile, and is a place where migratory birds find shelter and reproduce. Its marine life is equally rich: fish abound in this territory crossed by more than eight rivers, which make the land fertile and suitable for cultivation. There is no doubt that Dibulla appears blessed by Mother Nature.
However, this entire fragile and important ecosystem has now begun to suffer irreparable harm due to the construction of the Puerto Brisa multipurpose coal port. On April 9th, the 16 fishermen's associations in the municipality denounced the environmental disaster being created by the dredging of an access channel to the pier, which began on December 1, 2011.
More than 10 dolphins, catfish, grouper and sea turtles have died. Local artisanal fishermen announced this disturbing situation in a letter addressed to the public a few days before the Constitutional Court issues its ruling on the viability of the coal port.
Puerto Brisa is located in the basins of the Cañas, El Lagarto y Jerez Rivers. These points are connected by a system of wetlands that are interconnected at high tide, forming one large basin. The project would break this connection, which enables the completion of an important part of the cycle of life in the ecosystem, as animals migrate, nutrients flow, and fish climb up from the sea to the river to feed and breed.
Assessments and studies
The environmental license was granted by ignoring all contrary recommendations and disregarding all the studies showing that the environmental consequences of a project of this magnitude in the region would generate would far outweigh the benefits.
"Areas with significant environmental restrictions on port activity between Riohacha and Dibulla are preserved by their legally protected status. Only pleasure boats and ecotourism are permitted in these areas, which also form part of the Black Line of indigenous communities of the Sierras,” according to the 2002 document, Conpes 3149.
However, by contrast, in Dibulla, large ships would dock to be loaded with carbon.
At the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute, the Deputy Director of Environmental Licenses from the Ministry of Environment requested on June 11, 2003 an assessment of the environmental, social, and technical viability of the project. The Institute responded that the construction and operation of Puerto Brisa was not feasible. In addition to this report, there are ten more in the possession of the Ministry, issued by different institutions, which clearly state that no license should be awarded to such a project in Dibulla given the serious environmental implications.
Similarly, one of the arguments advanced for granting the license was denying the existence of coral reefs in the area where the harbor would be built. Fishermen strongly deny that claim.
"All of our fishing grounds, as we have known since ancient times, are related to coral reefs, from which we derive our livelihood and our food," they say in their letter. On April 7 they and a team of marine biologists conducted a dive in the area around the dredging site, finding two different species of corals, which refutes the statement by the highest environmental authority in Colombia.
The position of the Ministry of Environment regarding the approval or denial of the license was not clear at press time. This is evidenced by an internal memorandum dated August 26, 2002. “According to Technical Assessment 877 of August 22, 2002, Invemar (Institute of Marine and Coastal Research), the Technical Director of Ecosystems, and the Deputy Director of Licensing from the Ministry of the Environment all once analyzed the environmental impact study and determined that it is not a viable project; in that respect, it would imply the denial of the environmental permit requested by the petitioner, Puerto Brisa. Later (in the same Technical Assessment 877) terms of reference were provided for the preparation of an environmental impact assessment. So the technical assessment should be clarified by reaching a decision on whether the project is viable or not. It is contradictory to say it is not feasible, but at the same time to give terms of reference for an environmental impact study with a relocation to the harbor, with the same environmental implications."
While fishermen, indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada, some of the Dibullera population, and environmental organizations hope that the Constitutional Court will, in its ruling, declare the Puerto Brisa project unfeasible, another project, the MPX super coal port, threatens to transform the beautiful Dibulla landscapes into a post-apocalyptic region.
Puerto Brisa responds
Puerto Brisa is a project that has operated with an environmental license since 2006. In the years before the granting of the license, a rigorous environmental impact study was undertaken. All the stages of law were duly evaluated and approved by the Ministry of the Environment.
In accord with the environmental permit, they established records management and compensation plans that are being properly implemented and enforced.
To approve the start of dredging, Dimar (the National Maritime Authority) demanded that the activity be widely disseminated and publicized. The Ministry of Environment has made multiple visits to the project, verifying the dredging activity and found it to be satisfactory. For its part, Dimar appointed two permanent expert witnesses who have not reported any impact on the local fishermen.
Author: Samuel A. Losada Iriarte
Location: Note Provided
Date Published: April 24, 2012
Source: El Heraldo
Translated by: Steven Fake, a CSN volunteer translator