PHUKET: A public hearing held yesterday has left in limbo plans to convert a water-refilling platform in Chalong Bay into an offshore petrol station.
The meeting, held at the Al Wallan Hidayah Mosque in Rawai, was called after a letter of protest against the project was filed with the provincial government by Sommai Naoprai, the president of a group called the Rawai Environment and Natural Resource Protection Volunteers.
“I heard the project was going ahead without any public hearings, so I filed a letter of protest and the project was stopped by the Marine Transportation Office in Phuket,” explained Mr Sommai.
“I am looking at this only in terms of the environment and the safety of the community, not whether it is a necessary project for the community,” he added.
Among his chief concerns were plans to install a 20,000-liter diesel storage tank beside the mosque.
“I don’t think that is appropriate. It is a religious place and children study here. What if a fire accidentally breaks out?” he said.
Pipes running from the storage tank to the platform 850 meters offshore were another concern.
“What if this project is approved and diesel leaks into the water? The pipes to the platform might be safe for the first few years, but they will deteriorate as time passes,” said Mr Sommai.
“There are many problems with this project. Think about it. Why do they need a gas station out on the water when there is a PTT gas station at Chalong Pier less than a kilometer away?” Mr Sommai asked.
“Also, no one knows where the money is. The villagers have the right to know exactly what they will be receiving from the project,” he added.
Village headman Prasert Khoomban denied the project was being done quietly.
“We started looking into selling diesel at the platform after receiving many requests from boatmen. We raised the issue with the mosque and filed a request with the District Community Development Office for approval. We have minutes of the meeting. We did not just get up and do the project,” he said.
“They accepted the request and coordinated with related offices – and the project was approved. We would be using technology from the UK for the entire project,” he added.
As for raising funds, Mr Prasert said that also was hardly a secret.
More than 400 villagers invested in the project, with shares at 100 baht each and a maximum limit of 50 shares per person imposed.
“We raised about 2 million of the estimated 3 million baht required,” he said.
Of the profits made from selling the diesel, 10 per cent was to go to the mosque, which he said needs at least 20,000 baht a month to pay for schooling more than 100 children, cleaning, electricity and water supply.
Now that the project has stalled, all the money has been returned to the villagers, he added.
Mr Sommai was plainly not satisfied with yesterday’s meeting, attended by provincial officials of the Energy Office, Marine Transportation Office and Natural Resources and Environment Office, as well as the local District Office and Rawai Municipality.
“I am not happy with today’s meeting because we have not had a clear decision by the authorities. The villagers saying they need the project does not mean the government has to approve it. We have to think about the disadvantages,” he said.
Mr Prasert, too, was disappointed.
“Very few of our villagers disagree with this project, and the people who came to the meeting today are not even from our village.
“This project would be good for the community, not for me. I will retire in a year. I would like to see the community have the income to support itself,” he said.
— Chutharat Plerin
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