Cabinet approves controversial infrastructure projects

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Sukhumvit tunnel, Laem Chabang expansion among projects to get funding

The Cabinet’s recent two-day meeting in Pattaya resulted in the approval of billions in baht for projects to dig a tunnel under Sukhumvit Road, deepen three Pattaya-area reservoirs and expand Laem Chabang Port.

Ministers gave thumbs up June 19 to more than 10 billion baht in budget requests from Chonburi Gov. Khomsan Ekachai for the controversial infrastructure projects.

PM Yingluck Shinawatra meets with 150 handicapped students from the Redemptorist School for the Disabled. PM Yingluck Shinawatra meets with 150 handicapped students from the Redemptorist School for the Disabled.

The funds will be used to begin the three-year, 120 billion baht Laem Chabang expansion, which calls for construction of a third wharf and twin rail tracks to connect the port to the northeast. The expansion is opposed by a broad range of environmental and small-business groups. (See related story page 3.)

About 30 million also will be available to begin deepen Mabprachan Reservoir to ease Pattaya water-supply issues and to dredge Huay Khainow and Mapwaisom reservoirs in Khao Maikaew to feed more water to Mabprachan.

The budget would also give start funds for the widely criticized plan to build a traffic-bypass tunnel under the intersection of Central and Sukhumvit roads. Construction on the 800-meter tunnel could begin as early as November.

“The transportation system, whether on land, sea or in the air, must be improved to better connect different modes,” Transportation Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said.

The cabinet session was an opportunity for governors of Chonburi, Rayong, Chantaburi and Trat to lobby for funding of infrastructure and pork-barrel projects. In Chonburi’s case, Khomsan was seeking 105.8 million baht in handouts to cover Chonburi road projects and drainage-pipeline construction in Huay Kapi, Panthong, Mabphai and Muang districts. Another 19.9 million baht was sought for an anti-drugs campaign sports field in Bangpra.

Other items approved include 6 billion baht for road repairs in Sriracha.

Not acted upon, however, were proposals related to further expansion of U-Tapao-Pattaya International Airport. Due to controversy over requests from the American government to use U-Tapao for humanitarian aid and atmospheric study centers, all action related to economic development at the airport was tabled.

Yingluck used the time before and during the cabinet meeting to meet Eastern Seaboard residents, hear their concerns and see the areas at issue herself.

During a June 17 visit to the Maptaput industrial zone in Rayong, the prime minister checked on the progress of fire-fighting water systems at Elastomer Co., the site of an earlier fire, and reviewed action plans related to environmental protection in factory-heavy neighborhoods and emergency-response drills at PTT Co.

Residents talked long and loudly about their opposition to Rayong’s growing industrial sprawl, pushing the premier to close down the Bangkhai industrial estate and not approve any new factories. She promised to send the requests for further study.

At the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, site of the cabinet meeting, Yingluck later met with 150 handicapped students from the Redemptorist School for the Disabled. They presented her with flowers and thanked her for support of the “1479 Empowerment of People with Disabilities” program.

Finally, the cabinet also approved bonuses for Pattaya elected officials and bureaucrats.

Security was tight for the meeting with more than 500 Region 2 officers assigned to protect the premier and legislators. But rumblings of protest actions proved untrue and the session went off without a hitch.