The Public Works and Town Planning & Country Planning Department deserves praise for compromising with villagers protesting a 97-million-baht seawall on Mae Rampueng beach in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.
After meeting a group of seawall opponents in Bangkok on Wednesday, the department agreed to form a panel to find the best option for the beach, which is in Bang Saphan district.
Satisfied with the department’s gesture, the opponents dispersed and headed home to the province.
Jintana Kaewkhao, leader of the Bang Saphan Conservation Network, welcomed the gesture, saying she hoped it will lead to a constructive solution.
She was pleased the department would allow the villagers to name their representatives on the panel.
In past years, the department has been criticised for building a number of seawalls in several coastal provinces, which instead of saving beaches, have accelerated erosion.
More than a dozen beaches, including a large part of Cha-am beach in Phetchaburi province, Pran Buri in Prachuap Khiri Khan and several others in Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat, have suffered heavy damage from the structures, and will forever lose their tourism attraction status.
With such a negative impact, villagers are resisting the construction of seawalls as they are a waste of state budget.
Billions of baht not only go into building the structures but also repairing them.
Mae Rampueng villagers cited those failures in their fight which, like in several other areas, is tough as local administrative agencies and contractors push hard for such expensive projects.
Apart from being a threat to beaches, most if not all seawall projects have caused conflicts and divisions in local communities.
At Mae Rampueng, villagers have complained of intimidation by influential people, who allegedly aimed to silence opponents, during a public discussion early this month.
The Mae Rampueng project is riddled with problems, including a lack of transparency. There are allegations the tambon administration organisation, the construction firm and consultants involved made up data in their proposal to justify the construction plan.
The villagers are upset that their calls for the reinstatement of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study, previously scrapped by the Natural Resources and the Environment Ministry, was met with a slow response from the agency.
With regard to the Mae Rampueng case, the Public Works Department needs to prove it is sincere in tackling the problems and ensure the panel’s formation is not just a time-buying tactic.
Meanwhile, the agency should suspend all seawall proposals and thoroughly study the impact of all existing seawalls, learn the lessons and find ways to heal affected areas once and for all.
It would be good if the agency seriously considered alternative beach protection methods, a practice of local wisdom among some southern villagers like those at Ban Tanyong Pao in Pattani’s Nong Chik district who have avoided the typical seawall and still been able save their beach.
That said, there is no reason for the department to ignore a cheap and sustainable alternative.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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