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Chilean court halts construction of massive electric plant

Shareholders arrive at Endesa headquarters in Madrid for the utility’s annual meeting in this file photo. The company's construction of a $1.4-billion power plant has been halted by a Chilean court.

BERNAT ARMANGUE/AP

A court in Chile has halted the construction of a huge power plant being built by a Spanish company, after fishermen charged that the massive project would harm the environment and ruin their livelihood.

The Punta Alcalde plant in northern Chile was being built by the Madrid-based company Endesa SA, Spain's leading electric utility.

The fishermen said the project would despoil the Llanos de Calle National Park and the Humboldt Penguin national reserve, both considered among Chile's natural treasures.

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"This could compromise fishing industries resources, with repercussions as well as marine reserves and biodiversity in the region," Paula Villegas, an attorney for the fishermen, told the CNN Chile news network.

The fishermen were from the town of Huasco in Chile's Atacama region, about 800 kilometres north of the capital city Santiago.

The Punta Alcalde thermoelectric plant was being built to supply power to the region's huge copper mining concerns.

At present, six plants operate in the region, a number insufficient to provide enough power to the energy-hungry mining industry.

Officials from Endesa had no immediate comment, and said they were reviewing the ruling, which puts the massive $1.4-billion (U.S.) project on hold indefinitely.

A court in Santiago issued the order on Friday but it was not unsealed until Tuesday.

Regional environmental authorities had halted the project last year, but were overruled by federal officials who said construction could proceed if some changes were made.

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Legal observers said if Endesa appeals the ruling, the case could make its way to Chile's Supreme Court.

A court in March rejected a similar project, the $4.4-billion Castilla thermoelectric power plant, which was to have been the largest in South America.

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