The Preah Sihanouk provincial authority on Wednesday defended its decision to let a private company build a major boat terminal at Village 4 in Stung Hav district’s Tomnup Roloak commune.

An environmental watchdog had earlier accused the provincial authority and the unidentified developer of illegally filling in the sea to make way for the terminal.

Provincial Hall spokesperson Or Saroeun told The Post on Wednesday that there had never been any major boat terminal in the province so the terminal, he said, is needed to meet the actual demand in the province.

“We want this type of development so the provincial authority would not reject the [company’s] request."

“The company just needs to fill out a proper application in accordance with the law. The firm is late in filing a legal application,” he said.

“The provincial authority supports the company’s development concept and investment proposal to develop the boat terminal and modernise it to serve the people,” he said.

In response to criticism that the firm had illegally filled in the sea, Saroeun said the authority had instructed the Stung Hav district governor to inspect the site and ask the developer to submit its legal applications.

“The provincial administration can accept the company’s request to pump water out of the area in order to lay the steel wire foundation in the sea, so the company needs to pump water out before it lays the concrete and steel wire foundation."

“After the construction finishes, it will restore the area by removing dirt used to block the waterway while laying the foundation. After that, everything will return to normal,” he said.

“The firm has signed a written contract promising to restore the area and remove the dirt after the foundation work finishes. I hope it will follow through with its promise,” he said.

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min recently told The Post that he supported the terminal development after receiving a report from his officials who had inspected the site.

“The provincial authority supports the boat terminal development . . . There are thousands of boats that need a proper terminal. Regarding the legal issues, the company is preparing a proposal for submission,” he said.

Stung Hav district governor Chhay Sokunda, who had inspected the site, said the company had only submitted its request at the district level. He acknowledged that it had filled in the sea to block the waterway while laying the foundation.

“The company said it needed a steel foundation in the water so it had to dump dirt into the sea to block the water route before constructing the foundation. Once the foundation work is completed, the firm will remove the dirt from the sea,” he said.

Sok Sokhom, the director of the NGO Cambodian National Research Organisation (CNRO), which has been observing beach and coastal violation in the province, said on Wednesday he was disappointed with the provincial hall’s decision to let the company fill in the beach.

Sokhom shared pictures on social media showing the company dumping dirt into the sea.

“Filling in beaches is now a common practice. I ask the government and relevant institutions to halt the practice and take action in accordance with the law."

“The dirt was dumped deeper into the sea, and the authority had not stopped it. It said it was for boat terminal development, but I haven’t seen any development that matches the development site. They just keep dumping dirt,” he said.

Sokhom said only national-level officials can stop the practice. “The coastal area is state public property. No one has the right to dump dirt into the sea. Only the government can turn state public property into state private property for investment,” he said.

A local resident who only gave his name as Poch told The Post that the terminal owner kept dumping dirt far deeper into the sea.

“Before, the terminal site did not link to the sea, but now they dumped dirt far deeper into the sea, about 70m. I’m concerned this will cause a problem for local villagers,” he said.

Under the purview of the National Committee for the Management and Development of the Coastal Zone, the law requires construction to take place at least 100m or more from the coast.