Levee builders endeavour to quash deluge of complaints

'We are building a dyke, not a concrete pavement," Pongsakorn Punpanich, an engineer from Macro Consultant Co, said with frustration. He was speaking to the Bangkok Post about a dyke construction project in Bang Kachao, in Samut Prakan's Phra Pradaeng district which serves as "the lung for the city".

Mr Pongsakorn was responding to questions about the project raised by netizens and civic groups who are concerned about the adverse environmental effects the construction project might create.

He said many activists misunderstood what the project was about and believed it would be a concrete structure along the Chao Phraya River. The project is actually a dyke to prevent water from the Chao Phraya flooding the Bang Kachao area during heavy rain. It will replace the existing dyke which has deteriorated.

However, those concerned about the project are worried that the dyke, although keeping floodwater out, will prevent water build-up within the area from draining out leaving it to stagnate.

The project has been shrouded in controversy as the government has been accused of failing to incorporate environmental information into its work. This has become a hot issue in environmental circles.

Macro Consultant was hired by the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning (PWTCP), under the Ministry of Interior, to conduct feasibility studies and design the project.

In the first phase, the study involved an area that stretches 2.3km in tambon Bang Krasob. The second phase covered five tambons which span about 18km. The other four tambons are Bang Nampeang, Bang Kobua, Bang Yo and Song Kanong.

Mr Pongsakorn said his company was required to work closely with residents who would be affected by the project. He said the studies have been completed.

The PWTCP contracted Italian-Thai Development to construct the dyke with an approved budget of 140 million baht, Mr Pongsakorn said, adding it is expected to be completed within two years.

The existing dyke which is now dilapidated is used to prevent a saltwater stream flowing into the Bang Kachao area during the summer rainy season when water from the Chao Phraya River flows into the area.

The water runs through cracks along the dyke wall, damaging crops in Bang Kachao.

"The old dyke is about 20 years old and not worth repairing," Mr Pongsakorn said.

He claims a group of farmers whose farms are damaged by salinity intrusion had petitioned the PWTCP to address the problem.

The first section will see a dyke ridge being built to replace the old one in the same position, he said, adding it will cover an area 800 metres long in Bang Krasop district which is hit hard by brackish water.

Mr Pongsakorn said his team had selected materials to be used for the project carefully. He said foundation poles of the new dyke will be 23m deep compared to 9m for the old structure.

A higher ridge will be built to give better protection against saltwater and floods. The project will also have a 2.5m-side walkway and a bike lane on top of the ridge.

"We are doing the structure [the walkway and bike lane] to cater to the needs of residents," he said.

Bang Kachao -- an eco-tourism area where nature is well preserved -- is attracting an increasing number of cyclists who take advantage of the area's beauty and it has become a source of income for local residents, he added.

However, Mr Pongsakorn said the dyke ridge in some areas outside Bang Krasop will have to be moved out further into the water for better protection.

He explained some residents living near the ridge are vulnerable to floods and saltwater intrusion as their land serves as water-retention areas during the rainy season.

Many farmers in Bang Kachao have been affected by flood waters. 

Supatpong Kaewphan, chief of Ban Pakkhongkaisao village in tambon Bang Krasop urged the public to understand the problems of affected residents, saying many of them were forced to give up agriculture for other professions.

"Our plants have been killed. The soil is damaged. We lose our crops to floods and saltwater and diseases every year," he said, adding his orange orchard was severely hit last year, causing heavy financial losses.

"We think activists have good intentions. But anyone in our shoes would have more understanding," Mr Supatpong said.

He claims the majority of residents have positive responses to the construction project as they hope it will help ease their problems.

Mr Supatpong urged authorities and activists to put their heads together to find ways to help locals to live happily in this most sought-after green area.

Green World Foundation secretary-general Saranarat Kanjanavanit has demanded authorities put the project on hold.

She said a study on impacts to the environment in the Bang Kachao area will be completed soon.

"A solution to a small problem would create a bigger one in the future. We should find a sustainable solution," she said.

She urged locals to understand the true extent of the problem, saying Bang Kachao is considered to be a water-retention area due to its geological features.

In the rainy season, floodwater rushes down from the northern provinces. The area is also affected by the flow of tidal water, she explained.

"So, residents will be affected by overflowing water to some extent. They should learn to live with it," Ms Saranarat said.

She urged agencies to work together to solve water problems that have plagued the area for a long time, saying collaborative efforts would result in greater success for everyone concerned.

Bang Kachao native Sukit Plubchang, 64, echoed the opinions of Ms Saranarat, saying the project needs an environmental study.

"I do not oppose the project. I know how bad the negative impact has been," said Mr Sukit, who claims he has been living in the community since he was born.

From his first-hand experience, he said a dyke would not be the answer to flood problems in the area.

He pointed to how the water gates are operated as the main contributor to the flood problem, saying gates are not operated in line with the occurrence of tidal water and storm surges.

Water clogged in front of the dyke ridge can cause water pollution, causing damage to farmland as well, he added.

"We might forget this point," he said urging residents to weigh the pros and the cons of the construction.

Mr Sukit praised the locals in tambon Bangkhon in Samut Songkhram province which is also affected by brackish water for their conscious efforts to solve problems.

"They [Bangkhon residents] chose to adapt themselves and their environment to the occurrence of tidal water," he said.

Source URL: Bangkok Post