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Divided opinions cast shadow over Kaeng Krachan park road project

Nov 05. 2018
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A CONTROVERSIAL road-improvement project in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province remained in limbo yesterday as park officials and critics of the project stuck to their positions.

The National Parks Department suspended the project on Saturday due to heavy criticism by environmentalists.

Those backing the project were invited to a consultation meeting in Phetchaburi yesterday, while the opponents, led by the Raksa Kaeng Krachan Forest Network and its allies in Bangkok, lodged a petition with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and chairman of the National Environment Board to halt the project. Jamlong Vilailert, a representative of the group, said the group was sticking to its stance of not supporting the park’s plan to pave with concrete the nearly 18km-long route that leads to the top of the Phanoen Thung mountain. However, Jamlong is accused of having conflict of interest as he runs a tourism business,

The route cuts through the heart of the park and environmentalists fear increased convenience offered by the road would impact wildlife and the ecosystem. Measures being suggested by officials such as speed limits cannot guarantee mitigation against the feared impact, as they are still questionable, Jamlong said.

He added that the authority had taken up the project in a slapdash manner, without proper consultation or environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Srisuwan Janya, a lawyer and president of the Stop Global Warming Association, said concerned authorities should prioritise their work concerning national parks as they have been set up for environmental protection, not tourism. By saying the aim was just to improve the old road as it does not require an EIA, the National Parks Department could possibly be in violation of the law, he said.

The project, he added, was likely to devalue the ecological values of the park crucial for its nomination as a UN World Heritage Site. If the park insisted on going ahead with the project, the group will petition the Administrative Court to grant an injunction, he said.

The project’s supporters, meanwhile, were vocal in their backing of the project. They were invited to the meeting chaired by the department’s deputy chief, Chalermchai Papata, at the National Park Office in Phetchaburi. They included the park’s advisory committee members, local authorities using the route, as well as tourism business representatives nearby. They agreed that the road was damaged to a point where it needed a thorough overhaul to ensure the safety of visitors and park rangers, and threw their support behind the resurfacing.

Sumon Sutaviriyawat, a committee member, and former senator for environment for Phetchaburi, said she has been working on environmental issues for the past 30 years, and if the project were bad, she would not have let it go ahead. The road was heavily damaged and required improvement, she said. 

The Bt86-million project was initiated by park chief Mana Phermpool, in consultation with the park’s advisory committee, over a year ago in an attempt to repair the 30-year-old road whose surface had eroded badly. Rock falls and collapses were periodically reported along the route.

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