Local residents wary about powerships off Dominican Republic’s southern coast

By Maria Montecelos

Azua, Dominican Republic, May 19 (EFE).- Smoke has begun to rise in recent days from large floating power plants installed off the coast of this southern Dominican coastal town, where local inhabitants are concerned and angry about their potential environmental impact.

The Environment and Natural Resources Ministry awarded the Karadeniz Powership company a license to operate at that location – a buffer zone where three protected areas converge: the Francisco Alberto Caamaño National Park, the Sierra Martin Garcia National Park and the Manglares de Puerto Viejo Wildlife Refuge.

According to a report from the Bonn, Germany-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation, that license ignores the “serious environmental, economic and social damage” that activity will generate and the “interests of the people of that area,” who live from fishing and agriculture.

It also says the license violates the Dominican Republic’s constitution, contravenes a law signed in 2012 that approved the country’s national development strategy through 2030 and runs contrary to regulations put in place to manage buffer zones around protected areas.

The two powerships (special purpose ships on which a power plant is installed) use one of the most contaminating and dangerous fuels, No. 6 fuel oil, a drop of which would contaminate around 4,000 liters (1,050 gallons) of water, causing poisoning and other health hazards, the foundation said.

Although the company could use natural gas, it utilizes that heavy fuel oil purely for economic reasons, the executive director of the Institute of Lawyers for the Protection of the Environment, Euren Cuevas, told Efe.

That institution represents communities affected by the powerships, particularly the population of Azua’s Los Negros neighborhood.

“Natural gas right now is sky high, and they’re going to look for what’s cheapest. They don’t care about people’s health, they don’t care about biodiversity, the environment. What they want is to make money,” Cuevas said.

The powerships generate nitrogen oxides and sulfur that cause respiratory problems and cardiovascular illnesses. And the noise and vibrations can cause hearing loss, interrupt sleep and hinder children’s cognitive performance.

The barges discharge the water used to cool the turbines, thereby raising the ocean temperature and reducing the growth, development and reproduction of aquatic flora and fauna.

Because of the environmental threats, more than 40 community institutions and organizations filed a complaint in January demanding the powerships’ environmental license be rescinded. But that action did not prevent the floating power plants from entering into operation.

The powerships were imposed on the community “in violation of all types of legal regulations,” community leader Juan Adalberto Beltre of the Anti-Barge Union told Efe, adding that when local inhabitants responded “they brought in the military and they bombarded us” with pellets and tear gas and left people “with permanent injuries.”

“Since then, we’ve been in a struggle. We’ve exhausted a legal process” in which they used delay tactics, Beltre said, adding that the community sought an injunction to halt the project but “at no moment did they stop.”

They kept dragging out the process, “recusing judges using trivial arguments,” he said.

Since the first night the powerships started operating earlier this month, “people have been walking around rubbing their eyes,” not knowing what had caused them to become irritated, Agapito Figueroa, who proudly wore a cap reading “No to the Barge,” told Efe.

Cuevas also said the pollution is affecting local residents’ health and quality of life.

“People can’t take it. Locals tell me they wake up at night feeling like they’re suffocating” because of the smoke that enters their homes, he said.

And he said the problems are already apparent even though only some of the engines are operating. “When all 18 engines are fully operating, no one will be out of harm’s way,” not the marine wildlife nor the fishermen who live from those natural resources.

“That barge is a crime scene that we – all of the Dominican people – have to have removed from there. This has to be removed either legally or by force” because “it’s a source of contamination and permanent illness,” Cuevas said.

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