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Tonle Bassac dredging necessary, say officials

A dredging boat and a barge work to collect sand from the Mekong River on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year.
A dredging boat and a barge work to collect sand from the Mekong River on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year. Heng Chivoan

Tonle Bassac dredging necessary, say officials

In order to aid waterway transport, sand-dredging – largely banned since a 2011 decree – will soon begin reappearing at dozens of locations along the Tonle Bassac river, a spokesman from the Ministry of Mines and Energy confirmed yesterday.

According to Meng Saktheara, at the behest of local authorities and the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, the government has identified some 30 to 40 spots stretching from the southeastern outskirts of Phnom Penh all the way to the Vietnamese border that require dredging to ease transport along the river.

“Therefore, the ministry plans to arrange the sand-dredging in the areas that need to be deepened,” he said, adding it would begin before Khmer New Year in April.

The spokesman said that two companies were already dredging at Koh Anlong Chen in the capital and another site closer to the Vietnamese border, however, about 20 companies had applied for the new work and the government was yet to make a decision.

Firms would sell the sand they dredged, he said, paying the government a fee per cubic metre as well as taxes and additional contributions to a fund for “local community development”, Saktheara said.

He described the issue as a “double-edged sword”, saying that strict oversight was needed to ensure that no environmental damage from dredging occurred, while removing some sand was necessary to ensure banks did not slide into the river and boats could pass.

He insisted his ministry had completed a thorough impact assessment.

But Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said that any company wanting to dredge still must submit a report evaluating the environmental and social impacts before it can be given the green light.

“If there is any sand-dredging project, the operating project holders have to submit requests to the Ministry of Environment for review and approval,” he said. “Otherwise, they cannot start operating.”

Soa Sopheap said his ministry was not yet aware of any planned dredging on the Tonle Bassac.

Peng Sovicheano, a spokesman from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said he too had not seen any formal plans but nonetheless welcomed the news as a means to ease navigation along the waterways.

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