Activists hold alternative plant 'review'

Songkhla: Residents protesting against plans for a new coal-fired power plant and sea port in Thepa district held their own "public review" Tuesday.

The move followed their boycott of the third and final public hearing on the Environmental and Health Impact Assessments (EHIA) for the 2,200 megawatt power plant and sea port, organised by project owner Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat).

"We believe the session held by Egat is not fair for those who don't agree with the project," said Isdares Hayeeda, deputy mayor of Thepha district municipality.

The protesters snubbed the Egat sessions, held on Monday and Tuesday, after they were told they could not attend if they brought in their anti-power plant placards.

"People have the right to know what happens in their area. They should have the right to speak out freely. But they couldn't," Mr Isdares said.

About 150 residents attended the protest event Tuesday outside Thepha School, 10 kilometres away from the Egat hearing at Pak Bang Tambon Administration Organisation (TAO) Office.

The coal plant will be on a 2,960-rai site, making it the largest of its kind in Thailand and three times larger than another Egat coal-fired power plant in Krabi province.

Protesters say they are concerned about the social and environmental impacts of the Egat project.

They claimed that Songkhla governor Thamrong Charoenkul had abused his power by issuing an order banning gatherings at the TAO office between Sunday and Tuesday. They said the order was to ban people opposed to the plant.

Mr Isdares said Egat had rushed the assessment of public opinion on the plant as the process had taken just nine months from last November.

Songkhla anti-coal activist Direk Hemnakhon, coordinator for the Network of People Developing Thepha, called for the government to overturn the Egat public review.

The network believes authorities did not truly welcome different opinions, he said.

Mr Direk said armed police and army officers deployed around the Pak Bang TAO office during the hearings had created an intimidating atmosphere for those opposed to the project, and was inappropriate.

"It looks like a one-sided event as only those who agree with the project are allowed to participate," he said.

The network also raised concerns over increased greenhouse gas emissions and air and water pollution that would be caused by the plant.

Meanwhile, just under 6,000 people registered to participate at the coal seaport EHIA public review Tuesday.

About 50 local representatives spoke about the project, with most offering their support saying it would benefit their communities and livelihoods.

Many said they trusted that Egat would take measures to mitigate the project's impact.

Anuchart Palakawong Na Ayutthaya, director of Egat's Project Environmental Division, insisted the floor was open for every opinion. Anyone could send comments to Egat within 15 days of the last public review, he said.

"These power plant and sea port projects are still at the review stage. It doesn't mean the EHIA of every project will be approved," he said.

The EHIAs for the power plant and sea port are expected to be finalised by October before being submitted to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy (Onep).

"We believe the Onep expert committee will scrutinise the EHIA reports thoroughly," Maj Anuchart said.

He insisted Egat has taken measures to address any issues arising from the plant, and it would hire a local workforce to operate it.

Source URL: Bangkok Post