Officials fiddle with studies as Pattaya Beach churns

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Work to save beachfront from erosion may not begin for 4 years

Despite being told that Pattaya Beach may disappear into the sea in as few as five years, Pattaya officials say legal disputes and protracted studies may delay work to save the beachfront for up to four years.

Following last month’s much-publicized report by Chulalongkorn University researchers that erosion is wiping away the city’s signature landmark faster than believed, Pattaya officials quickly proposed projects to rebuild the beach and even construct a current-changing breakwater to project the sandy shoreline.

Pichet U-thaiwattananan, director of the city’s Engineering Department. Pichet U-thaiwattananan, director of the city’s Engineering Department.

Provincial and national bureaucrats quickly applied the brakes to those plans, however, saying hasty beach refilling and marine construction could violate existing environmental laws or even cause more damage.

Rawat Poring, head of the national Marine Transportation Department’s Pattaya Branch – which actually paid for the Chulalongkorn study – said none of the three proposals forwarded to save the beachfront can move forward until yet another study is done to assess which option is best.

The legal delays, long approval of any new studies plus the massive cost of rebuilding the beach may mean officials may not get around to saving the beach until it’s too late.

At a Feb. 14 Pattaya City Hall meeting, Pichet U-thaiwattananan, director of the city’s Engineering Department, noted that the erosion threat to Pattaya Beach has been known about for years. Even in 1989, he said, a Japanese firm drew up a master plan to mitigate beach erosion. That plan, however, was killed by the national Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy Planning.

The Chulalongkorn study reported that in 1952, Pattaya Beach covered 96,128 sq. meters and was 36 meters wide. Erosion cut that to 49,919 sq. meters by 1975.

Pattaya’s explosion as a tourist center and the uncontrolled development that came with it actually resulted in the entire beachfront disappearing during the 1992-1993 storm season. Only emergency measures managed to restore the sand to 18 m. wide over 50,500 sq. m. by 2002.

Today, however, rampant exploitation of beach resources and unchecked erosion has again resulted in some parts of Pattaya Beach now having only 5 m. of sand.

Experts say the government must spend up to 600 million baht to save the beach by refilling it with 200,000 cu. m. of dredged sand. The project outlined by Chulalongkorn would widen the beach again to 30 meters.

At the Valentine’s Day meeting, officials also put forth alternative plans that would see the beach widened to 40 meters and another to widen it to 30 meters while building a breakwater near Bali Hai Pier.

Pichet suggested a consultant be hired to study the three options. Once complete, it would need to be endorsed by the natural resources office and the legislature before any money could be allocated to begin work.

Rowat estimated that would take three to four years, leaving officials little time to save the beachfront.

In the interim, Pattaya officials hope to move forward with emergency erosion mitigation in North Pattaya, again pushing the Dusit Curve area out to 15 meters. However, even that 40 million baht project will need to be discussed further by bureaucrats before anything is done.