Development project rows may escalate

Development project rows may escalate

Residents fear environmental impact

Almost a dozen activists protest the government’s coal-fired power plant project in Krabi outside Government House on Nov 18 2016. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
Almost a dozen activists protest the government’s coal-fired power plant project in Krabi outside Government House on Nov 18 2016. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Over the past year, numerous development projects and policies have ended up in conflict between government agencies and local residents. Some of them were put on hold and others are ongoing. For 2017, a number of conflicts have the potential to erupt or at least see an escalation. These include

DEVELOPMENT OF THE MEKONG

The cabinet in the last week of 2016 approved a development plan for marine transport along the Mekong River which will last until 2025.

The plan, proposed by the Transport Ministry, includes improving watercourse navigation to help boat transport.

The resolution has sparked concern among the millions who live along the river and in the Mekong basin as they believe it will involve the use of explosives to demolish the many rocky outcrops along the river to clear away dangerous obstacles.

Destroying the rocky river beds, they say, could alter the natural pattern of water flows, affect the breeding grounds and habitats of fish and numerous rare species of aquatic life. The livelihoods of millions of local people, many of whom are poor, will be affected.

KRABI COAL POWER PLANT

The conflict over the construction of the Krabi coal-fired power plant looks set to intensify. The energy minister has asked the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) to compile a list of supporters of the project and submit the document to the Energy Ministry in January.

The move came despite the fact that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered the suspension of the project until residents have a better understanding of it.

According to government sources, around 15,000 locals from four tambons located near the power plant site have shown their support for the project while core opponents are outsiders and environmental activists. The opponents have campaigned mainly via social media and contend that the province has high potential for the development of renewable power generation, sufficient to supply the entire province, so it has no need for the coal-fired power plant.

Despite confirmation by Egat that the project will use the world's highest standards of technology, the strength of the protests has forced the Office of the Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning to suspend its environment and health impact assessment study until there is a clear resolution on the issue.

NEW MINING ACT

The National Legislative Assembly recently approved a new mining law which has provoked a storm of protest and vows by local rights protectionists to fight it to the bitter end.

They say the law limits the right of residents to protect their health and natural resources from mining activities.

Conversely, it gives special privileges to mining operators who will have no need to conduct an environmental impact assessment study of their projects -- this will be done instead by the Department of Primary Industries and Mines if the projects are developed in designated or potential mining areas.

SOUTHERN LAND BRIDGE PROJECT

Two public hearings for the Pak Bara deep sea port project in Satun and a second deep sea port in Songkhla were cancelled late last year because of strong opposition to the projects by concerned locals and environmentalists.

The two ports are designated as a part of the Southern Land Bridge project to link the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand to help the country's economic growth.

Other projects in the scheme include a dual-track railway linking the two provinces and a coal-fired power plant in Songkhla to increase power security in the south of the country.

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