Monday, August 14, 2006

"Now that's not very anti-climatic"

"Now that's not very anti-climatic" - Shane Dorian, surfer, after his first view of the Nueva Aldea pulp mill in southern Chile.

With scientists from Valdivia, Save the Waves is sponsoring a river and ocean water testing program to monitor the mill's waste. On day 2 of testing the river I drove north out of the flooding Itata River watershed and found Teton Gravity Research, Shane Dorian, Ian Walsh (Hawaiian surf grommet of Maui Pe'ahi infamy), Jeremy Jones and various other snowboarding maniacs at Coco's family compound hacienda: local red wine flowed freely, the freshly-killed free range meats sizzled nonstop on the grill, the mud walls of the hacienda rang with laughter, we toasted the still-clean river, the Australian photographer jeered and moaned and drank and left us all crying tears of laughter... and the gnocci was homemade.

Coco's sister rocked our gastronomical universe in preparation for a break in the wet weather and a shot at the big and barreling spot we'll call Grajagan (TGR and Company are visiting to film a South American surf-snowboard-lifestyle film and wanted to educate themselves and their public about the pulp mill threatening the region).
Our next step for the Itata water program is now in progress: analysis and an internationally published report by Sandor Mulsow at the University Austral of Chile in Valdivia. The pulp mill has begun its "marcha blanca" testing of all operational systems and is now "cleaning" all operations in preparation for full bleached pulp production to begin in the following months.

The rains in the VIII region have been torrential throughout July and August. On Friday the 11th I took the train to Chillan and rented a car. I chased Mariano and Matias the water testing mad scientists through driving rain, slippery mud roads and giant puddles in my tiny rental toyota yaris (it handled so well!) to a tiny fisherman's shack in Boca Itata.

On Sunday the 13th I awoke at the crack of dawn. The winds were still onshore but the rain had stopped overnight and I drove to Boca Itata to meet the water testers and go out on the river. On the days before they were taking water samples from the shoreline at 12 different stations upriver from the mill and directly around the mill site.

Today, Sunday, we are taking samples from a local fishing boat in the mouth of the river about 50 km from the mill. After launching we motor around for an hour sampling distinct points within 1 to 2 km from the mouth of the river. The swell was huge and stormy and although we're over a km inland the boat is rocked and we're drenched from swells bending in through the narrow river mouth - at its widest the rivermouth is only 200 meters, and this in the heart of winter. Imagine the polluted trickle it will become in the Mediterranean-style summer.

After taking the water temperature and on-site carbon content we move the samples to shore in coolers and everyone sucks down several hot mates. The samples are off to the deeper south for analysis and commentary!

Later in the day I track down TGR and we drive to the pulp mill to interview Shane, Jeremy and myself about water pollution, saving the surf and fighting big business buffoons. We decide that pulling into a perfect, green, cold barrel is great inspiration to keep fighting multinational corporate irresponsibility.

After an hour of filming interviews and mill shots, the "pacos" chilean police show up and insist they are merely performing a routine "traffic stop". Although we're parked 50 meters off the road in a dirt lot across from the mill entrance. They demand identification, we explain ourselves, handshakes go around and in the end they confess that the mill security called them out on us. Smiles and nodding heads, we leave with the goods securely in the bag.

Our favorite spot delivered big, green barrels the following day. Shane and company were ecstatic.

We should have some of all this in glorious 16mm film within two months. In the very least, we are bearing witness to an environmental crime in the works. At the very most, our water testing will establish a dialogue with the government which will result in much stricter laws to police this unregulated pulp industry.