The appearance of an excavator, machine parts and metal structures on islands in the Tatai River in Koh Kong province has aroused suspicions among local conservationists that a company intends to launch a sand-dredging operation in the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary – a suspicion shared by a Ministry of Mines and Energy official.
On Friday March 3, Mother Nature activist Lim Kimsor photographed metallic structures being erected on Koh Smach Island, along with large metal objects that resemble machine parts. “We just saw the machinery but no activity yet,” Kimsor said yesterday. “But we are worried about that.”
Leak Sopheap, a community leader from nearby Koh Srolav village, said that representatives of a consulting company called CES Co, Ltd visited the village to interview locals about their lives and their dependence on local fisheries.
The visitors did not say who they represented or that a new dredging project would commence. “I just saw some people come here to study and they did not tell us what’s going on,” said Sopheap.
CES could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Ministry of Mines and Energy Secretary of State Meng Saktheara, meanwhile, said that while companies had expressed interest in the area, none were currently licensed to dredge there. “There were companies who had licences for sand dredging down the Tatai River”, but “operations were suspended late last year”, he said.
“One company, SCTWN [Development Co, Ltd] applied for a sand-dredging licence in one of the stream tributaries of the river close to Koh Srolav village last year,” he added, although the application was “not processed” because of a suspension of sand exports.
According to Saktheara, whose ministry reviews environmental impact assessments for dredging projects, Tatai River sand is more suitable for land reclamation than construction, meaning it would likely be slated for export to Singapore. Therefore “any dredging operation would be scrutinised”, he said.
Saktheara said he visited another island downstream, where he saw an excavator and a workers’ camp, but “could not get much information”.
Saktheara said he suspected SCTWN was preparing the venture. “They are the only company that tried to get their licence,” he said. “They hired consultants to do the study.”
“We have people on the ground to monitor any unpermitted actions,” he added SCTWN could not be reached for comment.