Work on Chile’s 570MW Ralco dam, on the Bio Bio river, has resumed. Endesa, the Chilean utility developing the US$480M project stopped work on 1 March 2000, as Chile had not issued the required permits to construct the dam and build the transmission lines.

Analysts say the utility’s recent action to halt work was prompted by fears that the newly elected Chilean government, which assumed power in March 2000, would further delay the approval process. However, on 10 March all required permits for the project were issued by the new government.

Endesa’s board of directors has unanimously agreed to resume construction at the Ralco plant in light of the government decrees awarding it the final concessions needed to operate the plant and related transmission lines.

The hydro plant at Ralco was designed to work in tandem with Endesa’s 450MW Pangue hydro project, which is also located on the Bio Bio river.

Ralco has been at the centre of controversy since plans for construction of the project were announced in the mid 1990s. The main objection to the dam was due to the flooding of territorial indigenous lands by the reservoir it created, displacing about 100 native Pehuenche families.

The stoppage in March is the second time work has been halted at Ralco in the past year. In October 1999, Endesa resumed construction after it had been halted in early September by a court order when a group of Pehuenche Indians took legal action against the company. A court of appeals overturned the civil court order allowing work to restart. Ralco has the government’s environmental approval despite Indian opposition.