The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ended an interactive forum with residents of Grand Bassa and Bong counties on the environmental and social impact that the construction of a 120 Megawatt (MW) Hydropower Dam over St. John River would have on nearby communities.
The forum was held in District #3 ‘C’ of Grand Bassa County last Thursday, on behalf of HydroChina, a company that won the bid to construct the dam. It attracted representatives from the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, the Liberia Maritime Authority, the Forestry Development Authority, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), the Bong and Grand Bassa Legislative Caucuses and local authorities. HydroChina is a Chinese firm involved in renewable energy and hydropower development worldwide.
The company, according to P. Nanlee Johnson, Energy Analyst at the Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy, was invited by the Liberian government to work with LEC to develop hydropower in an effort to increase power generation in the country.
Johnson said the Chinese firm was invited based on the National Electricity Law of 2015, which removed LEC’s monopoly over the energy sector since it cannot single handedly provide electricity for the entire nation.
He told residents that following initial talks with HydroChina, the MLM&E referred the company to the EPA, which is empowered by law to grant permits to companies whose operations would impact the environment.
Johnson is hopeful that the construction of the hydropower dam would help government meet its ambition to electrify 35 percent of the country by 2030 as provided for in the country’s Energy Policy.
Aloysius K. Kotee, EPA Assistant manager for the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Unit, said HydroChina has applied for a permit to construct and operate a 120 MW hydropower dam over the St. John River to provide affordable and uninterrupted electricity for Bong, Grand Bassa and other areas in the country.
The EPA has promised to make copies of the ESIA available to the Daily Observer, but its content was briefly discussed at the forum.
Mr. Kotee told the gathering that the meeting was intended to review the environmental and social impact assessment report, which captured the positive and negative impacts the construction of the hydropower dam would have on local communities near the river bank.
“The assessment was done on behalf of HydroChina by Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC), one of the 11 groups the EPA has trained to carry-out environmental assessment,” Kotee said.
He said that the meeting to review the ESIA report shows that government has departed from the way it handled development projects in the past, noting, “in the past, local communities were never consulted about the negative effects development projects would have on their lives.”
The EPA was set-up in 2003 to address issues relating to the desecration of sacred sites like ‘bush schools’ and burial sites by companies executing development projects in the country.
Jerry Toe, head of EPA’s Department of Compliance and Enforcement, said that the ESIA is a requirement for the granting of permits to firms that want to implement development projects.
Mr. Toe challenged residents not to allow their quest for hydropower to drive their decisions to accept the project without voicing out what would negatively affect their lives when the hydropower dam is built.
He asked the residents to review the document from a critical standpoint, saying, “The kind of comments and questions you ask at this interactive forum will determine the type of permit the EPA would issue to HydroChina.”
There was no bidding process because according to the EPA, it was the HydroChina that expressed interest in constructing a dam in Liberia.
Urias S. Goll, deputy executive director of EPA, lauded the people of Grand Bassa and Bong counties for turning out in their numbers to review the ESIA report for the construction and operation of the hydropower dam, along with the EPA and representatives from other line ministries and agencies.
He thanked NRDC for completing the assessment and said the EPA commissioned the ESIA because it is aware that the hydropower dam will not only bring development, but will negatively affect local communities, including the destruction of crops. However, he said the EPA will compensate the residents.