Chilean court approves controversial dam project

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile's Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected challenges by environmental groups to a hydroelectric dam project in the wilds of Patagonia.

The ruling upheld an earlier decision by an appeals court in the southern city of Puerto Montt, which decided the project doesn't violate the constitutional rights of those who challenged it, court spokesman Jaime Rodriguez said.

The Italian company Endesa and the Chilean firm Colbun propose building five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Patagonia, a southern region of glaciers, deep valleys and mountains.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera supports the $7 billion project, saying it's important for Chile's economic development.

Critics say Chile should develop other forms of renewable energy and have mobilized protests opposing the project, which they say would harm Patagonia's ecosystem.

Those who sought the legal challenges included environmental groups and Chilean Sen. Antonio Horvath.

Electricity generated by the dams would travel about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) through transmission lines to the capital of Santiago. The approval of government environmental authorities would be needed to build the transmission lines.

Environmentalists called the court's decision a setback but said the project will still have to contend with some landowners' opposition to having transmission lines cross their property.

Some environmentalists also noted that it was a close decision, with three judges voting in support of it and two against.

Sara Larrain, who heads the environmental group Chile Sustentable, said she and other activists plan to pursue other types of challenges to try to block the project.

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