Seawall projects set to face stricter environmental checks to battle erosion

Seawall projects set to face stricter environmental checks to battle erosion

The National Marine and Coastal Resource Management Committee has approved a policy that requires developers of seawall projects to follow stricter environmental guidelines to get development permission.

The panel chaired by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon on Friday announced 3,148 kilometres of coastline in Thailand would be a "coastal erosion protection zone" and seawall constructions would be forbidden unless developers followed environmental checklists.

Local administrators and developers would need to follow "environmental checklists" to obtain seawall development permits from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

An example of a checklist includes providing project information to a expert committee appointed by the panel to recheck its details. Developers need to conduct an assessment on the effects of coastal erosion on nearby areas.

Seawall concrete structures which are made from concrete and rocks have been reported to cause coastal erosion at adjacent beaches.

"This policy means the country finally has the environmental oversight to keep seawall projects in check instead of 'build it first and solve environmental impacts later', as has been happening during the past six to seven years," Asst Prof Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of this national committee, wrote on his Facebook page on Friday after the meeting.

For the next step, the Environmental Ministry will draft a ministerial regulation and table it in parliament for approval.

If accepted, the regulation will be vetted by the Office of the Council of State before it is gazetted.

Without objections, the process will take about six months, according to Sakanan Plathong, a member of the subcommittee on coastal erosion which proposed the environmental checklists. Mr Sakanan is a lecturer on marine ecology at the Prince of Songkla University.

The national committee was responding to mounting concerns and complaints about the impact of seawalls built along the coastline.

Since 2013, developers of seawalls which are made of hard materials such as concrete and rocks have been exempted from the requirement to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to get a development permit. Prior to that, developers had to follow a lengthy process of EIA submission.

The EIA process was also costly, which prompted the Marine Department under the Transport Ministry, and the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning under the Interior Ministry, to ask the Environmental Ministry to release seawall projects from EIA requirements, to enable seawall project development.

Both state agencies have overseen the budgets of seawall infrastructure across the country.

But the lack of checks led to an increase in such projects and mounting complaints about ecological impacts.

Nearly 3 billion baht has been granted for seawall projects from 2017 to 2022 -- about 500 million baht annually, a significant increase from when developers were required to conduct EIAs.

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