Protesters shun power plant hearing
Urge investigation into meeting, ban order
Songkhla: Protesters boycotted a public hearing Monday on a new coal-fired power plant project planned for Thepha district, after being told they could not attend if they brought their protest placards.
The third and final hearing on the Environment and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) for the 2,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant, which will be the largest of its kind in Thailand, was held at the Pak Bang Tambon Administration Organisation (TAO) office.
Tight security measures were employed at the hearing, organised by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), the project owner, amid fears protesters would attempt to stage a rally against the plant.
About 400 military officers, police officers, and defence volunteers were deployed at the hearing.
Songkhla governor Thamrong Charoenkul earlier issued an order banning gatherings at the hearing venue between Sunday and today.
The EHIA hearing on the power plant's deep-sea port is due to take place today.
About 50 local protesters gathered in front of the Pak Bang TAO office demanding the governor, who chaired the hearing, should cancel the event and revoke his ban order.
They had been told by authorities they could not attend the hearing unless they put down their placards opposing the power plant.
They decided to boycott the meeting, saying the placards were part of their expression of their opinions.
The group earlier called for Mr Thamrong to step down from chairing the event, claiming he did not hold a neutral position.
"It is my duty as the governor [to be the chairman]," Mr Thamrong said, rejecting the request.
He told the hearing that the project will benefit Thepa residents.
"Since Egat has proposed the project, Thepha is now known nationwide. Shouldn't we be proud about that?" he said.
"Thepha people will be the owners of the upcoming coal-fired power plant and deep-sea port."
The governor told reporters he was not opposed to different opinions.
Some attending the hearing told the Bangkok Post that they did not know much about the matter under discussion.
Some admitted their local village leaders had sent vehicles to pick them up to attend the event. Authorities handed out free Islamic thobes (body-length garments similar to a robe) for Muslim attendees and jackets for non-Muslim attendees, as well as food coupons.
Some residents came out in support of the project. "Perhaps coal-fired power plants will create jobs for local people," said Thepa resident Muhummad Sa-i, 38.
"I'm not sure about the impact of the project. But it would be great if local people can pay cheaper prices for power."
Protester Ai-yob Muheh, 47, said he was very concerned about the social and environmental impacts of coal power on his home.
"This area is abundant with natural resources. Coal will ruin that," he said.
The protesters filed a petition to the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre in Yala Monday asking it to investigate both the public hearing and Mr Thamrong for his order banning gatherings at the Pak Bang TAO office.
Anuchart Palakawongse Na Ayudhya, director of Egat's Project Environment Division, insisted Egat's hearings were lawful. "We have organised the public review step by step according to the law," he said.
Maj Anuchart said Egat did not bar anyone from expressing their opinions. "It's impossible to cancel the project. Most Thepha people support it," he said.