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Samak to revive old dam project
PM on collision course with environmentalists

Bangkok Post 6 June 2008
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej announced the revival of the Kaeng Sua Ten dam project yesterday, a move that will put him on a collision course with environmentalists and anti-dam villagers.

Speaking at an event to mark World Environment Day organised by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Mr Samak said the proposed dam in Phrae's Song district could not only ease flood problems and supply water to farmland in the dry season, but also produce electricity without any carbon dioxide emissions.

The prime minister taunted environmentalists for protesting against the dam project, saying no one opposed construction of the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams because non-government organisations did not exist at the time.

For as long as they had been around, NGOs had protested against dams, impeding their construction, he said.

The long-shelved Kaeng Sua Ten dam was a case in point, he said.

''The project has been suspended for almost 30 years because of protests by these 'Daddy NGOs'.

''This is why we still have to suffer annual floods and water shortages,'' Mr Samak said.

He dismissed claims by villagers in Phrae that the proposed dam site contains tens of thousands of rai of golden teak trees and a lot of wildlife, including rare peacocks.

''Where are the teak trees they talked about? The teak was felled years ago to build houses,'' he said.

''Talking about peacocks, the dam opponents said these birds will die if the [Kaeng Sua Ten] dam is built. I wonder if the birds are that stupid.''

Mr Samak said he will make sure the project is revived, to overcome agricultural problems and flooding.

Electricity could also be produced at the dam, so 32 provinces in the Central Region could benefit from it.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Anongwan Thepsuthin quickly tried to turn the prime minister's announcement into action by calling a meeting of ministry staff next week to discuss dusting off the project.

Peerapong Suwanmontree, deputy chief of the Irrigation Department, the project developer, said the agency was ready to revive the dam project if the government approved.

He claimed floods in the Central Region were largely caused by run-off from the Yom river and said farmers had to fight for water when the river became shallow un the dry season.

Proposed by the department in 1989, the project has faced strong protests from local people and environmentalists. The department said the dam would benefit farmland and an irrigation area of more than 367,000 rai.

But Harnnarong Yaowalert, who sits on the National Economic and Social Advisory Council, did not accept the government's arguments. He said if the dam is built, 25,000 rai of the Mae Yom national park, among the most fertile teak forest in the country, would be flooded.

Mr Harnnarong criticised Mr Samak for saying that building the dam would cut carbon dioxide levels.

Felling trees to clear the way for the dam was not wise since trees help reduce carbon dioxide levels, he said.

Mr Harnnarong said Mr Samak's criticism of NGOs showed the government did not give priority to involving NGOs and environmentalists in solving the deforestation problem.

He also doubted the dam would be worth the investment since its cost had jumped from about three billion baht 20 years ago to 12 billion baht now due to rising costs of construction materials, land expropriation and environmental impact mitigation.

Chum Sa-iebkong, the kamnan of tambon Sa-ieb in Phrae, who led past protests against the dam, challenged Mr Samak to inspect the teak trees and peacocks for himself.

''The prime minister should have enough data before making such comments. If he keeps speaking about the dam without any knowledge he does not deserve to be the prime minister,'' the kamnan said.


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