Locals unite to oppose bridge over historic canal
Bridge projects are often welcomed by communities. Yet a bridge built across the historic Khlong Maha Sawat canal has won nothing but brickbats from residents in the two communities connected by the structure -- Taling Chan district in Bangkok and Bang Kruai district in Nonthaburi province.
On June 12, scores of community residents from both sides of the canal lodged a petition with the Administrative Court asking for an order to demolish the bridge. Khlong Maha Sawat is a man-made waterway that was dug 160 years ago under the reign of King Rama IV and is listed under the Fine Arts Department as a national heritage item.
Accompanying the residents was activist Srisuwan Janya, president of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution and Prasith Wichaisuchart, representative of the Boat Tourism Association. "The bridge has not brought benefits to communities living along the canal. It only brings more vehicles into the area and worsens traffic congestion. The bridge also blocks boats during high tide and that affects the tourism sector," said Mr Srisuwan.
"The canal is historic, listed and belongs to the Treasury Department. I wonder how the local administrator and BMA received approval from those agencies," said Mr Srisuwan, referring to the bridge.
The bridge was built by a real estate company named Asian Property (Krungthep) Co, Ltd.
The company also donated infrastructure to both local administrations before it opened in March. The bridge connects Soi Chaiyapreuk 33 in Taling Chan district on the Bangkok side and Maha Sawat area of Nonthaburi side.
Taiwut Khankaew, chief of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's Department of Public Work, defended the agencies involved -- Maha Sawat Tambon Administrative Organisation and the BMA.
He said the contractor complied with all regulations.
He said the BMA, the Royal Irrigation Department, the Marine Department, Maha Sawat administration entity and the cruise operator all accepted the meeting's resolution to build the bridge.
A tour boat has had a test run under the bridge and it went without a hitch, he said, adding this proves the bridge is not too low even though the petition alleges it is lower than the required six metres.
"The bridge will be a shortcut for those travelling to the other side and meets a public need," said Mr Taiwut.
Opposing community residents begged to differ.
"Taling Chan district never came to ask residents what we want," resident Pornchai Lertsathitporn, told the media after submitting the petition letter to the court. Residents have accused Taling Chan district of not conducting a public hearing as required by law.
Prasith Wichaisuchart, who represents the tourist boat operators, said the bridge prevents tourist boats passing during high tide. "The developer promised during the public hearing the bridge will be high enough for big tourist boats to pass", he said, claiming the bridge will undermine the government's plan to turn Khlong Maha Sawat into a tourism route.