THAILAND - A government-assigned academic panel has been assigned to look into the environmental impact of the Mae Wong dam in Nakhon Sawan, after environmentalists raised eight points of concern over the project's environmental and health impact assessment (EHIA) report.
Meanwhile, the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) said it would halt plant to construct the dam, now listed under the government's Bt 350-billion water and flood management scheme.
The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's deputy permanent secretary Wijarn Simachaya said that in addition to representatives from the RID and civic groups, the ministry-assigned panel he will chair would have 15 environmental experts from such Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Kasetsart and Mahidol universities.
The panel will review the eight points raised by environmentalists, who say the RID's impact assessment report contains vague and unclear information on how the dam will affect flora and fauna in Mae Wong National Park, especially on the habitat of tigers in the park.
Also under question was the lack of importance in the EHIA report on the dam's location in the park in relation to Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, which was made a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1991.
Previously, the Mae Wong dam plan was overseen by the RID. But it is now a part of the Bt350-billion water and flood management scheme run by the National Water and Flood Management Commission (NWFC).
The environmental expert panel will make extra recommendations once public forums ordered by the Administrative Court have been conducted. The first forum is due to be held today in Lamphun. A report will then be sent to Cabinet and the Independent Commission on the Environment and Health.
Wijarn said the ministry's academic panel would seek clear answers and send their findings to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP)'s environmental expert panel, which is also studying the EHIA report.
"Once we get clear answers from the RID and the environmental experts, we will take these findings into consideration, along with the EHIA report, so that the government has access to academic and scientific information, before making its decision on whether to build the dam," Wijarn said.
He said the ministry had not designated a deadline for the academic panel, but its first meeting would be held on October 21.
RID director general Lertviroj Kowattana said that as the dam was now listed under the government's mega-water project overseen by the NWFC, it would be up to the agency to make the final decision on whether to build the dam or not. "We want the ONEP's environmental expert panel to complete its job first, because we also want to know whether this dam will be fit for the local area's irrigation," he said.
Sasin Chalermlarp, secretary-general of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, said he was satisfied with the ministry's response to the environmentalists' demands and would send a representative to join the government-assigned academic panel.
Sasin added that although it was reported that the government would hold a public debate about the Mae Wong Dam project on October 17 at Government House, he had not yet received an official invitation letter to join the debate.
Meanwhile, public forums to get opinions and approval from residents living in the 36 provinces affected by dams and projects proposed under the Bt350-billion flood management scheme, will commence today in Lamphun at Jakkhamkhanathorn School.
Lamphun MP Rangsan Maneerat yesterday said he was confident that there would be no problems with the forum, provided that there were no outsiders to stir up trouble. He also expressed concerns about villagers who might be affected by the Bt500-million Huai Tang Reservoir project in Ban Hong district, and urged that the government set up remedial measures in case the area is hit by flooding. The reservoir would have a capacity of 9.23 million cubic metres and irrigate over 12,000 rai of farmland in the region.