The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy has extended bidding on the construction of a multimillion-dollar hydroelectric dam in Bokor National Park, despite widespread environmental concerns, an energy official said.
The project, the subject of fierce debate in 2001, has quietly moved forward as environmental concerns from a number of NGOs have seemingly gone unaddressed.
So far 32 international companies have entered bids for the project, Bun Narith, director of the Hydroelectricity Department at the ministry, said Wednesday.
He estimated last month that the project would be worth
$270 million, though the funding will be through the company that gets the contract, rather than the government. The closing date for bids has been extended a month, to April 23.
Tim Redford, deputy director for WildAid Asia, in charge of WildAid’s program to manage Bokor National Park, said Thursday he was surprised to learn that the project was up for bid. He thought it had been scrapped after WildAid and other NGOs complained as a feasibility study was being conducted at the end of 2001. The Canadian government helped fund the study, and was considering funding the dam, but backed out as a result of the controversy over potential environmental damage, he said.
Bun Narith said an environmental assessment was performed as part of the feasibility study, but neither the study nor the assessment are available to the public. He said there were meetings in 2001 with involved parties, adding, “I think nobody protested.”
“There were problems,” Redford said. “There were endless problems.” He said he and other NGOs “gate-crashed” the meetings because they weren’t invited.
Redford said concerns raised included contamination of drinking water and irrigation downstream with salt water, and damage to the park’s ecosystem—one of the most pristine in the country. There also were concerns that the cost of electricity generated would be higher than current energy prices and that the country lacks a grid capable of distributing the energy to areas that need it, he said.