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Alarm over proposed dam

The Sam Rainsy Party has asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to verify the details of a proposed dam that could inundate about 10,000 hectares of protected forest, citing concerns that it would lead to rampant illegal logging and devastate a traditional habitat of Siamese crocodiles.

The proposed 109-megawatt dam would inundate about 20,000 hectares of land overall in Koh Kong province’s Cheay Areng valley, according to conservation groups, although an environmental impact assessment of the dam commissioned by the company suggested only 9,474 hectares would be flooded.

The US$327 million project was taken over by China’s Guodian Corporation after China Southern Power Grid dumped the plan in November, 2010, deeming it unfeasible.

In a letter sent to Hun Sen dated Monday, SRP legislator Son Chhay asks the premier to explain the status of the project and raised concerns that those tasked with clearing the reservoir would log far outside the designated area, mimicking the experience of previous dam projects.

“The situation at Tatay hydro dam area [in Koh Kong province] … is that the group of loggers used their right for logging inside the dam area to log outside the area, which devastated the natural forest, causing extreme concern,” the letter says.

It points to threatened species that would be seriously affected, including Siamese crocodiles, dragon fish, Asian elephants and tigers.

A Conservation International environmental and social impact study into the proposed project showed that about half of the reservoir would be inside the Central Cardamom Protected Forest.

Significant illegal logging of luxury timber such as rosewood had already taken place inside the CCPF, specifically in Koh Kong province’s Thma Bang district on O’Som commune in Veal Veng district, Pursat province, the study said.

Pech Siyon, Koh Kong provincial director of the department of Industry, Mines and Energy, said yesterday he could not set a date on when the project would begin because data about villagers who practised slash-and-burn farming in the area was still being verified.

“People are not living in the area, but they have farming cycles [inside the area] and construction has not yet begun on the project,” he said.

A January, 2008 social and environmental impact assessment (SEIA) into the project by Guangxi Electric Power Industry Investigation Design and Research Institute found 899 people from 189 families in six villages would be forced to relocate because of the project.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director of International Rivers, said the SEIA for the project had been approved despite the fact that it would forcibly displace hundreds of indigenous people from communities that had lived in the area for centuries.

“This is a devastating project that will have significant environmental impacts and  will resettle quite a few ethnic minority families,” she said.

“It’s especially bad for the population of Siamese crocodiles in the dam area, but this is also within the Cardamom Mountains, so it’s in a protected forest.”

Adam Starr, a project co-ordinator with Fauna & Flora International, said the area was home to the second-largest traditional habitat for Siamese crocodiles left in Cambodia, if not all of Southeast Asia.

Starr also said questions had been raised about the viability of the project because of the area’s topography which, although in some ways perfectly suited for a dam, posed problems because the elevation of the area was low.

“They would have to pipe the water 24 kilometres before they could get enough drop to spin the turbines to get the desired amount of electricity,” he said.

Guodian Corporation and China Southern Power Grid could not be reached for comment.

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