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Questionable approach

Son Nguyen
Saturday,  Mar 25,2017,00:23 (GMT+7)
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Questionable approach

Son Nguyen

Nicknamed “Green Lung of the City,” Son Tra Peninsula in the central coast city of Danang has recently made big headlines in local media as its noble merits are menaced. Construction work on projects had been hastily taking place there, seemingly unnoticed by Danang authorities until a fisherman last week posted pictures of abnormal developments online. The aftermath reveals a highly-controversial tug of war.

As covered by the media, a side of Son Tra Mount has been ploughed up, exposing large swathes of red soil in areas that used to be the forest. It is the site of a huge tourism project, and when authorities came up for an inspection, it is known to the media that the foundations for 40 villas as part of the project have been completed, without prior regulatory approval.

But the project is not an illegal one, except that certain regulatory procedures have not been accomplished. Instead, it has been approved under the master plan for Son Tra Peninsula. At issue, if any, is the negligence of Danang authorities that turned a blind eye to the development.

In fact, Tuoi Tre newspaper recalls the dereliction of duty on the part of Danang authorities with regard to some illegal constructions in the city. These include the building of six Chinese-style houses uncovered last month, and a huge condo and hotel project whose construction had reached the tenth storey without a construction permit until it was suspended this month.

Back to the Son Tra case, the big question is whether or not large-scale constructions should be allowed there.

Son Tra is home to big herds of Red Shanked Douc Langur, a species of the primate family endemic of the peninsula. The Old-World colorful monkey, whose image will be the mascot of Danang City at the forthcoming APEC 2017, is listed in the Red Book of Vietnam for tight protection due to the high danger of extinction. Constructions on the peninsula, say scientists, will threaten their existence as their natural habitat will be narrowed.

Therefore, upon news on the construction on Son Tra, the Danang Tourism Association has sent an urgent letter to the Prime Minister and other competent agencies proposing that constructions not be allowed on the peninsula.

Huynh Tan Vinh, chairman of the association, says in the letter that the biodiversity of Son Tra will be ruined by the development. Son Tra is home to 985 species of flora and 111 species of fauna, many of which are endemic to the coastal site. Such a biodiversity needs to be protected unconditionally, Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reports, citing the letter by Vinh. It was later found out by the Danang Tourism Department that the letter was signed by Vinh in his own capacity, not representing the tourism association.

But, as per the master plan, a sizeable part of Son Tra will be earmarked for developing tourism facilities.

Tran Chi Cuong, deputy director of the Danang Tourism Department, affirms in Nguoi Lao Dong that “the zoning plan for Son Tra Peninsula has been endorsed by the Government, and … by 2030, there should be some 1,600 hotel rooms there, compared to the current 200 rooms.”

The master zoning plan, in fact, was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam on November 9, 2016. Of the total natural area of some 4,440 hectares, over 1,050 hectares will be reserved for tourism development, says Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon Online. Cuong of the Danang Tourism Department is quoted as asserting in the online media that the investor was developing the villas in an area where tourism development is allowed.

Tuoi Tre in an editorial over the future of Son Tra says that up to 17 tourism projects have been licensed on the peninsula.

Objections to the planned development are strong, though.

If planned constructions are given the go-ahead, the Red Shanked Douc will be at stake, and the green lung of the city will be damaged and replaced by steel and concrete, says Tuoi Tre. The paper sarcastically remarks that Danang should now make an option: either to keep Son Tra intact and turn it into a national nature reserve, or develop it into a high-end recreational paradise benefiting a few organizations and individuals.

Echoing the point, Lao Dong newspaper comments that “we are seeking to recover areas that have had biodiversity damaged. So, areas like Son Tra should be kept intact.” The paper stresses that Danang City’s government should not carry out activities that adversely affect the biodiversity of Son Tra while pursuing its tourism development goal.

In harmony with the point, Nguoi Lao Dong highlights the tradeoff between short-term benefits from tourism projects and priceless values of nature preservation. The question is whether Danang should embrace development or preservation, whether it should safeguard the benefits of a group of investors or protect the interests of the entire community.

“It is not easy to find answers to all such questions if (the local government) does not have a good vision and integrity,” says the newspaper.

Nguoi Lao Dong also refers to a similar case as a precedent, which is the project to develop Dong Nai Hydropower Project 6-6A that was planned for development in the heart of Cat Tien National Park. Under strong pressure from the public, the project was later shelved.

Huynh Tan Vinh of the Danang Tourism Association in the above-mentioned letter notes that Danang City is now home to nearly 600 hotels with nearly 22,000 rooms, sufficient for tourism in decades to come. Last year, the demand for hotel rooms in the coastal city matched just one-third of the number, so there is no need to develop more hotel rooms in Danang, says Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon Online.

The insistence on building more hotel rooms on Son Tra Peninsula, therefore, is a questionable approach, putting the “Green Lung of the City” under tenterhooks.

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