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Suwat pushes for fast action on Phi Phi

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: In an abrupt government about-face after more than a year of blocking rehabilitation of Koh Phi Phi Don following the tsunami, Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop has urged redevelopment of the island be pushed ahead to hasten the island’s return to its former status as a tourism hotspot.

At a meeting held at the Royal Phuket City Hotel on Wednesday, government representatives from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi discussed redevelopment progress in the three provinces.

Krabi Vice-Governor Chai Panichpornpan complained that construction has been started on only three of the planned 50 houses for tsunami victims on Koh Phi Phi Don.

V/Gov Chai said, “Can you imagine this – that tourists can approach to within sight of the shore of Koh Phi Phi Don, yet they cannot disembark due to boat traffic congestion in the bay? It’s disgraceful that redevelopment plans still have not been approved.”

He also commented on two key problems the island faces: supplies of water and power.

Thailand’s Provincial Waterworks Authority has agreed to produce water using reverse osmosis technology to sell to Phi Phi Don’s residents, depending on government funding for the project.

Despite a 620-million-baht budget approved on September 6 last year by the Provincial Electricity Authority to link the island to the mainland power system via underwater cables, the Environmental Office (EO) –under the the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) – has not authorized this project, claiming that the necessary construction work would destroy or damage surrounding coral reefs.

Currently, people on the island use generators to produce electricity.

Deputy PM Suwat asked, “Why doesn’t the EO care about the noise pollution caused by the generators?”

Officials from the EO agreed to reconsider allowing cables to be laid underwater if Krabi Province sends them a revised Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE).

Koh Phi Phi Don is now undergoing a review of the IEE, for resubmission to the EO.

Finally, V/Gov Chai said that although locals want a 20-meter strip of land measured from the shoreline inland to be designated a no-construction zone in order to preserve the beachfront, the Land Department and the EO have already approved a 30m “set back” zone, causing some resentment among the island’s residents.

He added that since the tourism high season has begun, hotels and other tourism-related businesses are irked because no development of land by the beach can start until this dispute has been resolved.

Deputy PM Suwat ordered the Vice-Governor, the Land Department and the EO to discuss the issue further and reach a final decision. However, no deadline was set.

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