GOVERNMENT officials and civil society groups met Monday in Koh Kong to discuss the likely effects of a hydropower dam slated for construction on the Tatay River, in the province's Thmor Band district, participants said.
At the public forum, held at the office of Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthang, researchers presented a draft environmental impact assessment of the dam and fielded questions from NGOs and residents about the impacts of the US$540 million project, participants said.
Taing Sophanara, a researcher for Key Consultants Cambodia (KCC), the firm conducting the assessment for the 246-megawatt dam, said the meeting allowed him to release preliminary results from the research.
"The meeting today was just to show some results in order to ask for comments from the people, involving government departments and other non-governmental organisations," he said, adding that the project would have "both positive and negative" effects.
Taing Sophanara said KCC had been hired by the Chinese National Heavy Machinery Cooperation, the Chinese firm building the dam, to conduct the assessment, which he expected to submit to the Ministry of Environment by the end of the year.
It would then be up to the government to decide whether the project got the green light.
But the Stung Tatay dam - like a spate of other hydropower projects the government hopes will provide the country with cheap power - could have significant environmental effects in the Cardamom Mountains, so far relatively untouched by development.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT IS THAT NONE OF THIS [POWER] IS GOING TO KOH KONG.
A feasibility study conducted by China National in 2007 found that 2,000 hectares of forest would be inundated at the reservoir site, predicting "significant" hydrological changes and a deterioration in water quality, with possible effects on wildlife and humans. It also predicted negative effects on fish migration.
Janet Newman, the owner and manager of the Rainbow Lodge Guest House in Tatay commune who has been following the development of the dam closely, said that while the Cardamoms would experience most of the negative effects of the dam, most its benefits would be felt elsewhere.
At a forum in April, she said local residents were promised that irrigation and other benefits would come with the onset of cheap electricity from Stung Tatay, but that it was clear now that most would be transmitted to Pursat province.
"The long and short of it is that none of this [power] is going to Koh Kong," she said after the forum.
An April 13 press release by SINOMACH, a Chinese state-owned enterprise group, reported that the power generated at Stung Tatay would be "transmitted to the Phnom Penh-Battambang Power Grid". It also said it expected power generation to begin in 2013.
Carl Middleton, Mekong programme coordinator of International Rivers, said an ideal process of dam impact assessment would involve close local consultation, including a "no-project" option, adding that impact studies commissioned by construction companies sometimes ran the risk of being compromised by "vested interests".
But Koh Kong Deputy Governor Son Dara said Monday that the government was doing what it could to reduce the negative impacts of the dam.
"As we know, each dam development project has social and environmental impacts," he said. "Now we are finding ways to reduce the impacts, such as thinking where and how to remove people from the impacted area."