Rally blocks deep-sea port public hearing

Protesters claim local concerns ignored

Opponents of the Pak Bara deep-sea port camped overnight at Ban Pak Bang School to block the first public hearing which was supposed to be held Thursday. (Photo by Paritta Wangkiat)

SATUN: The first environment public hearing for the planned Pak Bara deep-sea port project was abruptly cancelled Thursday after several hundred protesters rallied at the venue to block the hearing.

The first public hearing of Pak Bara Seaport's Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) was scheduled for Thursday morning at Ban Pak Bang School, La Ngu district in the southern province of Satun.

However, about 200 local protesters had camped out at the school since Wednesday evening and stayed overnight there to block the hearing. The event was later cancelled after a confrontation between the protesters and proponents who could not get inside the venue.

"We want organisers to cancel the hearing because the government is not listening to local concerns sincerely," said Kraiwut Chisakul, a protest leader.

Opponents said the people invited would present only positive information about the project while the negative aspects would be ignored, especially the impact on natural resources that are the foundation of local tourism. They feared the port would lead to additional infrastructure projects and petrochemical industries.

"This project will destroy our livelihood that relies on the sea," said Mr Kraiwut, who has operated tours in Pak Bara for decades, taking tourists to popular islands including Koh Lipe.

Many of his community members are fishermen who fish in front of Pak Bara Bay.

The controversy over the Pak Bara deep-sea port has been ongoing since 2009 after villagers in Satun objected to the project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which was completed by the Marine Department.

Locals claimed the EIA was based on incomplete information. For instance, it failed to incorporate ecological value assessments in Pak Bara Bay, where the project would overlap with local fishery and tourism areas.

In 2015, former transport minister Prajin Juntong announced a plan to update the impact assessment and assured the project would be a "green sea port". But some locals were not convinced by the study which cost 120 million baht to complete.

The military planned to chair the cancelled hearing.

Around 150 officers were deployed to the area to prevent further confrontations between opponents and proponents of the project. The other group of local villagers waiting outside the school demanded officers continue with the hearing. Officers had to block them from entering the school to avoid clashes.

"We come here today because we want to hear the details of the project. If it's good, we'll accept it. If it's not good, we'll think about how we should react," said Jirasak Pongtae, 56, a local villager.

Somboon Kamhang, an opponent from Satun who has monitored the project in Songkhla and Satun said: "The Pak Bara deep-sea port is just part of the megaproject called the Songkhla-Satun land bridge that will affect people in both provinces. If the Pak Bara deep-sea port is built, other projects will follow. That's why villagers from both provinces are here together."

Nat Chubjai, deputy director-general of the Marine Department, said he would discuss how to proceed. "We have talked to locals and found 60% of them supported the project. The prime minister is following the progress.''

According to the Marine Department, the Pak Bara port project planned for Pak Bara beach would serve as the port for Thai shipments to the West.

The port would involve land reclamation to create an artificial island 430 metres wide and about a kilometre long, and cover an area of 292 rai about four kilometres offshore. There would be a concrete bridge connecting it to the mainland.

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