The Ministry of Mines and Energy has denied that the proposed Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province will have as wide-ranging environmental and social impacts as predicted by activists, saying that the forests will be replaced by ecotourism resorts.
Speaking to reporters yesterday in Phnom Penh, ministry secretary of state Ith Praing said the reservoir would cover only 10,000 hectares and that the dam was slated for completion by 2020 at a cost of $400 million.
“In reality, the project is under study. The claims that forest is being logged are exaggerated. We do not log the forest. We are aiming at hydropower production,” he said. “If we log the forest, where can we get water resources? I pity people who are lied to. They are seeking funding and support for their organisations. If they did not do so, how would they get the money?”
Praing’s comments followed local media reports earlier this week that the Chinese state-owned firm contracted to oversee the dam’s construction, Sinohydro Resources, a subsidiary of Powerchina, had already signed an engineering, procurement and construction agreement with a subcontractor, Cambodia Lancangjiang Engineering.
The news prompted activists to suggest that the green light may have already been given for construction of the highly controversial project, but Praing claimed yesterday that their fears were overblown.
“They always say what we do causes people to shed tears, which is an exaggeration,” he said. “Will they cry when the project is completed? It will transform the area into ecotourism resorts.
“If they say it will affect 20,000 hectares [of forest], we do not know where they get that figure from,” he added.
At least 1,318 people will be forced to relocate under the project, Praing said.
Earlier this year, the Post reported that Sinohydro had taken over the project to construct the Areng dam with the help of Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin, and later, that clearances had been given for it to prospect for possible mining projects in the area.
Major international conservation groups have opposed the project, along with community activists, who have repeatedly blocked the access road into the site since March.