B200m to change opponents' minds : Soldiers `surveying' villagers' opinions

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 Kultida Samabudhi - บางกอกโพสต์
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11 พฤษภาคม 2544

The Irrigation Department will spend 200 million baht trying to convince people in Phrae the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten dam is necessary. 

 Irrigation chief Samart Chokhanapitak said it was proving difficult to make people understand the need to build the dam on Mae Yom river. The department had been promoting the project for more than 10 years, but there was still a lot of work to do. 

 There were several points that local people still wanted to know, such as the safety of the dam, which will be on a fault line, compensation and relocation schemes, and environmental mitigation plans, he said. 

 The project cost had already risen from 8.2 billion baht in 1998 to 10 billion baht due to increase in prices of materials and construction equipment, he said.

 Mr Samart was speaking at a press conference on water management during this year's wet season, which is expected to see higher rainfall than last year. 

 He said the water crisis was over as water levels in major rivers, which were extremely low for several months, had now returned to normal. 

 The irrigation chief also admitted that soldiers had been deployed in tambon Sa-iab of Song district, the designated dam site. 

 He said they were assigned to ``survey the locals' opinions'' about the dam's construction. 

 In a progress report on the project made to Agriculture Minister Somsak Thepsuthin last week, the department indicated it had asked the military to conduct psychological operations in Song district in a bid to ease local opposition to the Kaeng Sua Ten dam. 

 The report said army intelligence units were also deployed in affected villages to monitor the anti-dam movement. The Agriculture Ministry also hired school teachers to promote the dam within the communities. 

 Mr Samart said the dam would ease flooding and water shortages in Phrae, Sukhothai, Phitsanulok and Nakhon Sawan provinces. 

 Modelling was already completed and the department was ready to start construction as soon the cabinet approved the controversial project. 

 ``Alternatives to Kaeng Sua Ten dam do exist, including the building of check dams, small reservoirs, and drainage channels,'' he said. ``However, building all of these would be much more expensive than one large dam.'' 

 Mr Samart conceded the environmental and social impacts of a large dam were much more serious than the smaller alternatives. 

 Environmental groups and villagers affected by the project have insisted the dam is not the solution to the flood and water shortage problems along the 795-kilometre river. 

 They argue it would have an unacceptable adverse impact. 

 Opponents say the planned dam would destroy 60,000 rai of pristine teak forest and force more than 1,000 families in Phayao's Chiang Muan district and Phrae's Song district to relocate.