The 2008 eruption of Volcán Chaitén, about which I have written several blog entries, now turns out to have had positive as well as negative consequences. For years, environmental philanthropist Doug Tompkins has been arguing that building a road through undeveloped parts of Tompkins’s Parque Pumalín, with attendant clear-cutting to allow for power lines from proposed hydroelectric dams in northern Chilean Patagonia, would be an environmental disaster. Now, it seems, the Chilean government concurs with Tompkins that a coastal route is preferable to an inland route through the heart of Tompkins’s properties (click on the map to see more detail).
That’s because Chilean authorities have decided that the new route, which will now involve two ferries, cannot pass as close to the volcano as it does now. As the town of Chaitén relocates to the northwest of its current site, it too will be beyond the volcano’s reach. Their reasoning may not be the same as Tompkins’s - the power lines are not likely to disappear from the proposal - but Pumalín should remain relatively untouched. On the other hand, the government’s move eliminates one of the objections to building the massive hydroelectric projects on the Río Baker and the Río Pascua, with all that energy to be shifted to power-hungry metropolitan Santiago. In all likelihood, this is not the end of the story of native forest conservation in northern Chilean Patagonia, but it's nevertheless a positive development.