Phuket road decision spells higher risks for Thailand’s mangroves

PHUKET: The long-awaited approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the “Klong Koh Phee Road” project comes as great news for all sides and represents a reasonable solution to an infrastructure hurdle that has needlessly wasted thousands of hours of commuter time over the years.

For background on the approval, see page 6, current issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers can click here to download the full newspaper.

The project first came into being at around the time Phuket’s Chalermprakiat School was under construction at Saphan Hin over a decade ago.

So sure were planners at the time that approval would be given to complete a 600-meter stretch of road connecting Saphan Hin to Sakdidet Road that the school’s main entrance was built fronting the mangrove forest. Then, like the scene out of Sleeping Beauty, something strange happened and everything came to a mysterious halt.

Long viewed only as a convenient source of material for charcoal production, Thailand’s dwindling mangrove forest reserves finally gained the legal protection they deserved through a 2003 Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) regulation that mandated a blanket ban on any and all public projects in mangrove reserves – nationwide.

The landmark statute was no doubt inspired by Royal Patronage projects that raised much-needed public awareness of the importance of mangroves. Mangroves are ecosystems in their own right and also play a key role in incubating marine species that live offshore. Among their other important roles, mangroves are a first line of defense against sea erosion and – as tragically revealed in 2004 – tsunami inundations.

Despite NRE protection, a combination of rising property prices and corrupt (or indifferent) officials led to continued attacks by encroachers.

Such developments have left Phuket with vast swathes of former mangrove reserves as little more than muddy plains covered with tin shanties, aggressive resorts, fish farms and floating restaurants in recent years.

Yet despite this widespread destruction, several rai of degraded mangrove land needed for this crucial road development project remained as if frozen in time.

Enter former Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop, who made road building a prime gubernatorial priority during his brief stay in office.

Although the Gazette disagreed enthusiastically with his initial plan to cut a low-budget road straight through the low-lying area, it was no doubt Mr Wichai’s raising of the issue at the highest levels of government that led the NRE Ministry to clear the way for an “exception” that will now culminate in a short link road over Klong Koh Phee.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that we have a precedent that could endow future national governments with the ‘wiggle room’ needed to move back toward resumption of Thailand’s widespread wars against the mangroves.

— Steven Fein

Phuket News
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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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