GOVT ADMITS IT WILL RECONSIDER CANCELLATION OF PROJECT DESPITE LOCAL OBJECTIONS
An environmental group in Phrae has condemned Sukhothai politician Somsak Thepsutin over his proposal that the government resume the Kang Sueten Dam project, even though the controversial irrigation project has already been abandoned and alternative small-scale water management projects are being implemented.
The local environmental group – the Kang Sueten, Yon Bon and Yon Lang Dam Opposition Committee – on Wednesday released a statement condemning Somsak for suggesting that the government restart the abandoned project during the upcoming mobile Cabinet meetings in Phitsanulok and Sukhothai on December 25 and 26.
Somsak’s remarks on Monday urged the junta to exercise its special powers to push forward the Kang Sueten Dam, which he said would not only solve water problems in Sukhothai, but also benefit the overall water management in the Chao Phraya River Basin.
But a statement from the environmental group said water control issues had been resolved by 14 alternative flood and drought prevention projects for the Yom River Basin. The umbrella project, known as the Sa-iap Model, was agreed to by all relevant agencies before Somsak tried to revive the contentious dam project.
“We condemn Somsak for trying to bring back the Kang Sueten Dam project,” said the statement. “We want him to stop any action that will reignite conflict among people, which will only disrupt the peace and order of our society.”
The statement added that the government had confirmed the dam project had been permanently cancelled and the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) had already returned the budget for an Environmental and Health Impact Assessment study to the Finance Ministry.
The Kang Sueten Dam was proposed as a Yom River hydropower project by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and RID in Phrae’s Song district. Project proponents said the dam would also solve drought and flood problems in the Yom River Basin and increase the area under irrigation.
The project faced severe opposition from local people, who claimed the dam would cause severe impacts to the environment and people’s livelihoods.
After more than 25 years of protest, residents successfully halted the project. But advocates have reignited the debate from time to time.
The statement from dam opponents cited research by various organisations that found that the benefits of the project were overstated. The Food and Agriculture Organisation concluded that only 8 per cent of previous water disasters in the Yom River would have been prevented if the Kang Sueten Dam had been in place.
The Thailand Research Fund concluded that the dam would cause catastrophic damage to the ecosystem of Mae Yom National Park. And the National Human Right Commission warned that the project would significantly violate the communal rights of local citizens.
Local people have begun work on the Sa-iap Model to prevent droughts and floods and to store water by maintaining a healthy forest ecosystem at the river’s headwaters. The already-approved alternative approach involves designating an area of communal forest to provide resources for people. They will also develop small weirs and reservoirs throughout all 77 tributaries of the Yom River and preserve 395 areas for retaining floodwaters.
Government Spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd confirmed that politicians and other people had asked to meet with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during the mobile Cabinet meeting in late December meeting to suggest a plan to restart the Kang Sueten Dam project.
Sansern added that the prime minister was willing to listen to information from all sides on the issue, because it pertained flood and drought prevention.
“If we are against every project, we will be unable to do anything,” Sansern said. “The prime minister wants every side to open their minds and listen to each other’s information to sustainably solve the problem.”
“Every year the government invests billions of baht to help victims of floods and drought, so it would be wiser to spend such large amounts of money on projects that could prevent these disasters in the first place.”