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Happy ending

Son Nguyen
Friday,  Aug 11,2017,13:56 (GMT+7)
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Happy ending

Son Nguyen

The heated controversy over a license issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to allow for sinking nearly one million cubic meters of waste into waters off the coast of Binh Thuan Province has finally come to an end. This Wednesday, the ministry announced its decision to back off from the dumping plan, saying the huge amount of the so-called material will be used to level a ship lock area encroaching on the sea as a component of Vinh Tan General Port project nearby, thus alleviating the fearsome threat to the marine environment.

As widely covered in local media, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha says the ministry has reached consensus with Binh Thuan Province authorities not to discharge mud, sand and other sediments dredged from the sea by Vinh Tan 1 Thermo-power Plant into waters near Hon Cau Marine Protected Area. Instead, the materials will be dumped into an area where a ship shelter will be developed as part of Vinh Tan General Port. The outcome has been achieved following a meeting between the minister and top leaders of Binh Thuan Province, according to Sai Gon Giai Phong.

In a proposal to the Government, the ministry also suggests that the Prime Minister order relevant ministries and agencies to conduct surveys to pinpoint areas in Binh Thuan suitable for dumping materials dredged from the sea. The materials, says the ministry, should be used for numerous projects to level the ground, encroach on the sea, or strengthen coastal embankments.

The ministry’s announcement has immediately heaped praise from the public, who have for weeks on end vented their angry objections to the initial dumping plan. Despite there are still certain concerns over the ministry’s U-turn, the new decision can be seen a happy ending.

Finally, says Dai Doan Ket newspaper, the State management body has listened to so many arguments against the dumping, “which is a very encouraging sign for the effort to protect the environment for sustainable economic development.”

According to the newspaper, as the dumping of nearly one million cubic meters of waste into the sea is now disallowed, another plan by Vietnam Electricity Group (EVN) to sink 2.4 million cubic meters of waste into the sea will expectedly be shelved also. Earlier, right after the ministry’s license issued to Vinh Tan 1 Thermo-power Plant to sink nearly one million cubic meters of waste, EVN has hastily made a similar petition to dump wastes into the sea.

Nguyen Tac An, former president of Nha Trang Oceanography Institute who has voiced strongly against the initial plan of dumping, says in Bao Dat Viet that the new plan to dump dredged materials into Vinh Tan Port to level the ground there is acceptable.

“I understand that many areas in Binh Thuan Province need huge quantities of such mud and sand to level the ground as well as to fight coastal landslides,” An is quoted in Bao Dat Viet.

To Van Truong, an independent expert on water resources and environment, also approves the ministry’s new decision. “The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has listened to critical opinions and consulted other agencies and experts to have a right and timely decision to use nearly one million cubic meters of waste for ground leveling at the port,” Truong is quoted as saying in Thanh Nien.

It is believed efforts by many State bodies have led to the ministry’s abortion of the initial dumping plan. Since the original license issued in mid-June to allow for dumping the waste into the sea, several central and local agencies have urged the ministry to rethink the plan.

Leaders of Binh Thuan Province have worked hard to avert a possible environment disaster. The provincial Party Committee even sent a proposal to the Central Party’s Secretariat as well as the Central Economic Commission to review the dumping plan for fear of environmental pollution.

Nguyen Manh Hung, secretary of Binh Thuan Province’s Party Committee, suggested that the dredged material be deposited at Vinh Tan General Port nearby, since the port’s sea-encroaching project was in dire need of materials for leveling, according to Tuoi Tre.

In fact, Vinh Tan General Port Joint-Stock Company as the owner of the port earlier had agreed to accept mud and sand dredged by Vinh Tan 1 Thermo-power Plant, according to Bao Dat Viet, but it was unknown why the power generator had sought to dump the waste into the sea.

Most recently, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to strictly adhere to the law in allowing for the dumping plan, according to an instruction issued last week by the Government Office. The Prime Minister also called for other scientific agencies to reevaluate the dumping plan and gauge its possible impacts on the marine environment, according to Tuoi Tre.

While the new plan to use the waste for ground leveling can give a huge sigh of relief, experts are still showing concerns to some extent.

The new plan “can be seen as least affecting the environment, but it still can,” says Nguyen Tac An, former president of Nha Trang Oceanography Institute. However, such minimal damages can be accepted, An says in Bao Dat Viet.

Meanwhile, To Van Truong, an environment expert, asserts in Thanh Nien that relevant agencies should still conduct an environment impact assessment report when using the dredged material for ground leveling so that “the benefits can be maximized while damages on the environment minimized” in economic development.

As the voice of advocacy groups in protecting the environment prevails, happy ending has been achieved for this controversy. However, the better part of this tug of war is the heightened public awareness about environmental protection on one hand, and the State agency’s willingness to listen and act.

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