Resistance to a dam project in France has gained international attention after a young activist was killed by police during a protest.
The project of damming the river Tescou at Sivens, in the Nord-Ouest du Tarn (municipality of Lisle sur Tarn, about 10 km from Gaillac), dates back to about 40 years ago. The dam is supposed to retain the waters in a forest area known as Espaces Boisés Classés (EBC) which falls within an area of ecological relevance for its fauna and flora, known as Zone Naturelle d’Intérêt Ecologique, Faunistique et Floristique (ZNIEFF). The TESTET zone is the last remaining humid forest in the Tescou region. It is home to 94 endangered animal species . Around 60% of the acquired area for the project is forest area (29ha out of a total 48).
The dam, whose reservoir is planned to reach a capacity of 1,5 million m3, would submerge the wetland of Testet, one of the most important in the department for its biodiversity. However, the river Tescou is already affected by 185 dams of various sizes, stocking 5,1 million m3.
The main body in charge of the project is the Conseil Général du Tarn and its delegate Compagnie d’Aménagement des Coteaux de Gascogne (CACG).
The agreement on the project so far has been that 30% of the water volume stocked in the reservoir would serve for pollution dilution purposes of the waters, while the remaining 70% would be allocated for the irrigation of at least 309ha.
The project will be entirely funded by public funds; the Conseil Général du Tarn for 10%, the CG de Tarn-et-Garonne for other 10%, the Agence de l'Eau Adour-Garonne (50%) and by European funds through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (30%) -2 million, from a total of 8.4 million euro .
Local groups have come together to oppose the project. The protesters say the dam-building process has been anti-democratic involving no consultation of environmental groups and that CACG carried out the study to ascertain the need for the project. They also claim the dam will hold more water than the region needs.
For many months, the activists have been living in and occupying the forest where the dam is supposed to be built. They've faced violent police repression since the beginning of the dam construction. In late October 2014, a peaceful demonstration was organized, where 5000 people rallied urging local authorities and the government to stop the project. Late in the night, a 21 year old student, Remi Fraisse, was hit on the back by a police grenade and died.
Since then, protest has intensified and local French authorities decided on October 31 to suspend work on the dam.
The project is also under examination by the European Commission. A procedure for breach of European environmental law could be launched against France, in particular the Natural Habitats directive, which aims to maintain biodiversity in the member states.
According to Euroactive website, French Green MEP José Bové said "after the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport, this is the second development project to be investigated by the Commission [...]. We urgently need to review France’s rules on the authorization of development projects and the procedure for declarations of public utility, to make sure they conform to European law before irreversible work is carried out".