Win-Win Decision, Part 2: The Sivens Dam


Just after my post four days ago on the lack of win-win decision making by politicians, I came across an example in the news of the French Ecology Minister using a win-win strategy.

But what led up to this win-win decision was about three years of win-lose decisions. This dam project has been seriously debated since 2005 but only in 2012 did things begin to move forward. Yet many people were dissatisfied and questioned this project for several reasons; 1) A supposed conflict of interest between the company building the dam and the local governmental administrative body, the General Council, that approved it; 2) The ecological damage it would do, flooding 32 acres home to 94 protected species; 3) The limited number of local famers who would benefit from irrigation water, only 20 whereas the initial project said 80 farmers would get water from the dam; 4) And a lower demand of water from local farmers today than thought at the beginning. In recent years many farmers replaced corn, which needs large quantities of water, with other crops needing less water.

Even with an unfavorable opinion on the project issued by a regional scientific council,  the General Council approved the project in May 2013. Win-win thinking seemed to be missing.

In October 2013 opponents of the dam began occupying the site. After a court case decided in favor the dam project the demonstrators were forced out of the area by the police. But this being France, they came back and the confrontations between police and demonstrators turned violent on several occasions.

During the last violent confrontation early in the morning of Sunday, October 26th, the police fired 400 offensive grenades, designed to stun demonstrators with their blast. A young demonstrator, Remi Fraisse, 21, was found dead as the demonstrators moved away from police lines. The ensuing investigation found that a police grenade might have been the cause of death.

This young man’s death brought everything to a standstill and for several days no one knew what would happen next. The General Council backpedalled, saying the government should get involved and deal with the situation. After one week of everyone wondering what to do, the Ecology Minister, Ségolène Royal, decided to organize a meeting with all those involved in this situation, the opposition to the project, representatives of the farmers and representatives of the General Council.

Nothing was decided at this meeting but the fact that she got everyone around a table and they all expressed their opinions was a good first step. Ségolène Royal praised them for their “quality of listening during the frank exchanges: everyone could express his exasperation, his suffering and his expectations,” according to Le Monde. This was the first step of working toward a win-win solution.

She is sending three new experts to re-examine the project and there seem to be three possibilities: 1) continue the project but on a smaller level, as the water needs of the farmers are lower than believed when the project began, 2) build the dam downstream in an area with less ecological damage or 3) totally abandon the project.

In my opinion, this was a good way to deal with the situation. She brought everyone together, heard their opinions and what they want and she then sent out a new team of experts to re-examine the project. This gives time for the different sides to think things over calmly and then later the Minister can get everyone together again, with the conclusions of the three experts, and try to find some common points on which to develop a solution.

Part of a win-win strategy is to take time before making a decision. Hear everyone’s opinion. Allow people time to reflect before continuing the discussion. In today’s hectic, impatient society people seem to think we should make quick decisions. Wouldn’t it be wiser to take time? Time for everyone to reconsider their expectations. Time for emotions to calm down. Time for different points of view to be expressed.

I must say that I have never been a fan of Ségolène Royal but in this situation I think she has thus far handled things well. I hope she can follow through and find a win-win solution!



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