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The construction site of the Chinese-built Stung Atai hydro-electric dam in Pursat province in 2012
The construction site of the Chinese-built Stung Atai hydro-electric dam in Pursat province in 2012. The Stung Atai dam is to be officially inaugurated today. May Titthara

PM to fete controversial dam

In the wake of several international scandals, the 120-megawatt Stung Atai hydropower plant in Pursat province and its transmission line will be inaugurated today in a celebration headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The $255 million hydropower project financed by China Development Bank has been operating since June last year, while the $113 million transmission line connecting the dam to Phnom Penh, Kampong Chnnang, Battambang and Pursat was only recently completed, according to a staff member – who declined to provide his name – at Cambodia Hydropower Development Co Ltd, a subsidiary of dam developer China Datang Corporation.

Yesterday, before heading to the dam site, Prime Minister Hun Sen met with the president of the state-owned development group, and thanked him for “helping power the Cambodian battery”, according to a government-released statement.

The fanfare follows a five-year, catastrophe-prone construction process that included airlifted, endangered crocodiles, a ravaged swath of protected Cardamom Mountain forest and a burst pipeline that injured five workers and left four more presumed dead.

“It’s no surprise that there has been poor government oversight of the project, as the dam’s environmental management plan was of extremely poor quality with insufficient funding and did not provide enough details on who would be responsible for monitoring,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers.

In 2009, logging tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS Import-Export Company was provided a licence to clear the forest during construction; however, the Post found last month that illegal clearing of the area is ongoing.

“After main logging operations were finished in 2012, MDS closed the timber sorting yard, but workers remained . . . [and] continued to cut what little luxury timber remained around the reservoir,” said Adam Starr, a project coordinator at Fauna and Flora International. “Once the initial trees were logged, the remaining was slash burned.”

Despite the criticisms, the government yesterday stood by its newest dam.

“Every dam has some environmental impact . . . but we have decided the benefits are more than the impacts with Stung Atai,” said Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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