While on an inspection of forest encroachment by private resorts on Koh Samet, Damrong Phidet, director general of the National Parks Department, discovered a gigantic pier, covered with a blue plastic roof, stretching out into the sea. Informed by the authorities that permission has yet to be granted for its construction, Mr Damrong immediately ordered a halt to the project.
“First of all, an environment impact assessment is required. The construction must stop until an assessment is conducted. If it has a negative impact on the environment. It must be demolished,” Damrong said.
The national parks chief said he was bound by duty to order the construction suspended, or he would be charged with negligence. Koh Samet is located on a wetland. That’s why an environment impact assessment is necessary.
The Rayong Provincial Administration Organisation (PAO) which has responsibility for the pier said a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with Koh Samet Island National Park . The Sriracha Protected Area Regional Authority authorised the plans and construction started in 2010.
An environment impact assessment (EIA) was not conducted since the project was created before the law on environment was enforced. Though located on a wetland, an inspection by officials of Khao Laem Ya national park did not indicate that the pier would affect the environment. Now that the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning compels the PAO to conduct an environment impact assessment, the PAO is willing to do so while the construction continues. Results of the assessment are due in October.
“The National Park Department should not emphasise only on the legal aspect of the project. It should also take the political aspects into consideration. The department is unrealistic. What will tourists, enterpreneurs and residents do if we don’t have a pier?”said Piya Pitudecha, Chief of Rayong Provincial Administration Organisation.
This is the only public pier on Samet Island, serving 300,000-500,000 tourists a year.Samet residents are worried that the unresolved conflict will affect their lives and jobs on the island.
“People will be in great trouble if the pier is demolished. How will tourists reach the island without the pier? It’s impossible to wade into the water with belongings the way we did some 40 years ago,” said Bang-ern Paetpiboon, a Koh Samet resident.
A group of Samet islanders decided to file a complaint with the Administrative Court last Monday, seeking an injunction in order to continue the construction.
Meanwhile, Deputy Finance Minster Viroon Tejapaibul said the Treasury Department’s Rayong office has leased a plot of land connecting to the pier to Rayong Provincial Administration Organisation.
The leased land is for the construction of a passenger lounge, a walkway to the pier and a parking lot. It is under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department, and located outside Laem Ya-Samet Island national parks.
However, construction of the pier which stretches into the sea must be approved by the Habour Department and National Parks Department, the deputy minister said.