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Pak Beng Hydro Dam in Laos Meets New Resistance From Mekong River Advocates

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CHIANG RAI – An Environmental group in Chiang Rai has renewed its campaign against the controversial Pak Beng dam that is due to be built on the transnational Mekong River by lodging a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court against Thai authorities for failing to provide local communities with adequate public forums.

The Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group accused the Department of Water Resources, the department‘s director-general and Thai National Mekong Committee of not providing enough information in three previously arranged public forums.

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Rak Chiang Khong president Niwat Roikaew said this was remiss as the dam, which will be built in Laos, could wreak environmental havoc on the river‘s ecology and on local villagers.

“The authorities have not done their duty for a long time [in running a well-informed public hearing to inform villagers about the impact],” said Sorrattanamani Phonklai, a lawyer representing the Community Resource Centre Foundation.

“Consequently, local people, who would be the first to bear the most dire consequences, are being kept in the dark because the authority has not done its job properly,” Ms Sorrattanamani added yesterday after filing a legal complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court.

The conservation group, which represents villagers from eight riverside communities, lodged a similar complaint in June but the Central Administrative Court dismissed the request.

Residents in Chiang Rai‘s Chiang Khong district said their communities and farming operations will suffer grave damage from rising water levels and the broader ecological impact of the dam.

The district is located just 97km downstream from the dam‘s construction site in the town of Pak Beng in Oudomxay province, northern Laos, according to Ms Sorattanamani.

Mr Niwat has repeatedly sought answers from the three authorities about the anticipated impact of the dam but has still to receive a clear answer from any of them, the lawyer added.

Villagers fear the dam will raise water levels by up by 10 metres, causing negative changes to the riverside ecology. Communities in Chiang Rai, Loei, Nong Khai, Bung Kan, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Amnat Charoen and Ubon Ratchathani will all be affected, the group claims.

This has concerned activists despite the developer claiming the Pak Beng project is designed to be a “run-of-river” hydroelectricity-type power plant which has little or no water storage, thus having little impact on the river‘s ecology.

Rak Chiang Khong says its calls to reconsider the project have fallen on deaf ears.

Ms Sorrattanamani said the project needs to be studied further, with measures taken to ensure Thai communities are not harmed by it.

The group is stepping up its protest as the project is scheduled to be built this year by Datang Overseas Investment.

According to its plan, the dam will start supplying 912 megawatts of electricity in 2023. Areas in the vicinity of the plant will also be developed to facilitate ship travel and support local tourism.

By Lakeland Observer