Sphenisco at the Investigative Committee

Reaction from Nancy Duman B. at the Parliamentary Investigative Committee

Valparaiso, 15. May 2017Comission

Good day. I would like to thank the members of the Parliamentary Investigative Committee for the invitation and the recognition of the work that our organization has performed, by virtue of having been invited to speak here. To begin, I would like to request to all those present, that we take out of our comments the words “objectors and supporters of the Dominga Project”. To comment about the problems with those words during the process of the environmental sustainability evaluation, is to misconstrue and trivialize the essential issues.
My intent in this meeting is to describe what we should really be worried about, and the consequences that will affect not only this region, but the entire country as well. The fundamental fact is whether the currently-existing environmental laws and the associated agencies can truly guarantee the performance of a real and objective environmental sustainability evaluation, and whether the environmental laws and standards are being adhered to.
With this in mind, I must remind you that the goal of this investigative committee is to investigate “irregularities, mistakes, and deficiencies” that have been questioned by various organizations of the civilian community, including our organization.

The central “mistake” committed during the environmental sustainability evaluation of the Dominga Project is that the comments, particularly those of the agencies responsible for addressing environmental concerns, the fishery agency Sernapesca and CONAF (which, among other things, are responsible for the natural protection areas), were not addressed during the various stages of the environmental review process, not during the initial evaluation of the project, nor during later addenda.
In due course, both institutions called attention to the fact that the Marine Protection Area Choros-Damas as well as the National Protection Area of the Humboldt Penguin, would be areas potentially affected by the Dominga Project, and that such potential ramifications would need to be addressed. On page two of its statement, Sernapesca called for the corporation to rethink its comments about Points b) (Significant Negative Consequences on the Amount and Quality of the Renewable Natural Resources) and d) (Neighbors of the Protected Species and Areas that Could be Affected), since the project is intended to be realized in an area of high environmental importance, an area with highest biodiversity and productivity, that is documented in scientific literature in an explicitly detailed manner, and where important and protected species devote themselves to feeding, breeding, and resting.
On the first page of its position paper, CONAF points out that the natural protection areas can very well be seen as within the “area of influence” of the project, and that the impact of the project on the ecosystem must be put on a proper scale, and from that to properly plan compensational measures due to the negative effects on the environment.
Other observations that were not addressed are based on the ship traffic that would result from the project, and the synergistic effect from that and other neighboring projects (e.g., the Cruz Grande Port Project, five kilometers away). Neither the corporations that have applied for the environmental review, nor the responsible agencies, have responded to these claims.
In the document and all of the amendments provided by the company for the environmental sustainability evaluation, relevant and essential information is clearly missing, information without which a correct review of the environmental sustainability is not possible. Relevant information is missing, as not all of the pieces, activities, or steps of the intended project are described, such as the ship traffic, which would be a necessary part of the baseline for this review. Other essential information is missing, since the already-provided data do not enable an assessment of the impact of the project to be made, nor allow an evaluation of the suggested compensational measures, and because the area of influence has been underestimated, the resulting baseline of creatures living in the area of influence is incomplete. Only a correct baseline would enable correct identification and assessment of the ramifications of this intended project.
It was not until the third draft (ICSARA 3) that clarification, corrections, and enhancements provided by the evaluating and coordinating organization SEA (using wording almost verbatim from CONAF's previous observations) required the company applying for the evaluation to expand its submission and to take the ship traffic and the synergistic effect of the combined projects into account.
Why is SEA only now requiring this? Perhaps it is because in January 2016 the Committee of Ministers, based on a citizens' petition, released a statement in which it was recognized that in case of an environmental sustainability review and the approval of the nearby port project Cruz Grande, the area of influence would have to be expanded to include the ship traffic? The Committee even admits that a permanent interaction between the project and the natural protection area “Reserva Nacional Pingüinos de Humboldt”, with its species worthy of protection, would result. This could have been the reason why SEA saw it necessary for the Dominga Project applicant to respond to these issues.
In order to analyze the document submitted as part of the environmental sustainability review, and to be able to answer to it, the varying organizations have 30 days, and in the case of amendments only 15 days to answer. Based on the summarized ICSARA 3, the company submitted Addendum 3, in which the project was so meaningfully changed that a third process with civic participation would be needed. The organizations would have very little time for their analysis, and there would be no time for questions and answers. They would be forced to rush.
CONAF stands by its previous comments, and has declared that it cannot perform its function and that the project cannot be evaluated. Sernapesca, that with Addendum 2 already repeatedly demanded that the natural protection area be included in the area of influence, has ceased to require this, although their concern was not satisfactorily addressed. What happened? Why did this organization change its position?
We have clearly observed similarities in the case of the Cruz Grande Port Project, where without an explanation and totally incoherently, three of the four organizations that had previously spoken out against the project, radically changed their stand and voted for the project as long as a few conditions were satisfied. Only CONAF remained steadfast to its mandate and continued to object. With Dominga, we are also now noticing that Sernapesca has given up its previous demands and only has a few requirements it wants satisfied. In order to understand how such a change in behavior is possible, perhaps we should study the organizations’ internal procedures, where often the voice of the subject matter experts means less than the opinion of the organizations’ superiors.
When looking further into the chronology of events, we were surprised to see that instead of a vote, there was a fourth summarizing ICSARA document, which would thus have required a fourth Addendum.
Conspicuous in ICSARA 4 is that CONAF’s demands are not mentioned at all, with the argument that its comments do not fall within their area of competence; however, these comments were still present in ICSARA 3. What should one say to that?! Something must have happened … Another important fact, which in the face of the process described in the environmental sustainability review gives one pause to think, is that the experts responsible for coordinating the review only have limited time contracts.
Finally, I would like to answer an argument that is often used in order to gain acquiescence:  everything is surely correct, “we’ve been reviewing three years already”. That is not correct. There have been only 120, or respectively 170 of the legally scheduled 180 days, in other words five-and-a-half months. The second environmental court said to this topic, that the applicants are responsible for presenting the intended project to the environmental review agency SEA, in such a way that an efficient review is possible. A badly presented project runs the risk of being insufficiently assessed.
(Segundo TB, 01.10.2013)
In conclusion:
1.  The applicant has presented a project that does not meet the minimum requirements in order to be assessed.
2.  During the review process, observations of governmental organizations with environmental competence were ignored.
3.  The document provided, and its enhancements or addenda do not contain sufficient information in order to allow for a correct environmental sustainability review.
4.   SEA should therefore have suggested a rejection and not a consent.
5.  The vote of the Commission took place with all of these aspects having being presented.
6.  Academics and research about the meaning of the archipelago and the coastal area of La Higuera was not taken into consideration, the opinion of scientific experts was not called upon.

Nancy Duman B.
translated by Erich Greiner