MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) – The Nicaraguan government's canal commission formally approved an environmental impact study Thursday that opens the way for a Chinese company's $50 billion inter-ocean project to procede.
Environmentalist Jaime Incer Barquero said the lack of transparency and the government's refusal to submit the project to independent, outside review makes Thursday's decision suspect. Incer Barquero said "there will always be doubts about its validity."
Canal commission representative Manuel Coronel Kautz said the commission's decision authorizes China's HKND Company to start structural and construction design work.
Authorities have already approved the proposed 172-mile route for the canal. Crews broke ground on access roads related to the canal in December, but have yet to start digging the waterway itself. Some experts doubt it will ultimately be built due to financial, environmental and social concerns.
Environmental activists, Nicaraguans who stand to be displaced and President Daniel Ortega's political opponents have criticized the project, including what they say has been a lack of transparency since it was first announced.
Monica López Baltodano, a legal adviser for the canal opponents, said the government appeared prepared to ram the project through, noting "the only path left for us Nicaraguans is international appeals and demonstrations across the entire country."