Several weeks from now, a controversial bauxite mining plant will process its first alumina batch in the Central Highlands.
The project has attracted strong criticism for its potential environmental impacts, inadequate waste management planning and its suspect economic viability.
Residents in the vicinity of the plant are already bearing the brunt of some of its negative impacts, but one that has not been much discussed has become increasingly obvious of late the severe damage caused to roads and the alarming implications for traffic safety.
Tran Duong Le, deputy director of the Lam Dong bauxite mining complex , said the Tan Rai plant in Bao Lam District is expected to produce alumina in late June or early July.
The plant, Vietnam's first bauxite mine, will produce about 650,000 tons of alumina a year when operating at full capacity, which means that around 600,000 tons of coal and chemicals will be transported to the plant every year.
The alumina will be taken to Dong Nai Province's Go Dau Port before being exported or carried to other plants to process into aluminum. Hundreds of heavy trucks run between the plant and the port, which works out to one trip every five minutes.
So far, the plant has received just 20,000 tons of coal, but local authorities are already complaining about badly damaged roads and an increased risk of traffic accidents.
According to a plan approved by the Ministry of Transport, alumina and coal will be carried on Road 725 and National Highway 20, as well as through bustling areas in Bao Lam District and Bao Loc Town.
Nguyen Van Trieu, Chairman of the Bao Lam People's Committee, said that there should be strict surveillance of overloaded trucks and the vehicles should only be allowed to use the roads at night.
"Road 725 cannot bear such heavy trucks, especially with one passing every five minutes. This road has dangerous sections and potholes would further threaten traffic safety," he said.
Bui Thang, Chairman of Bao Loc Town also said that the roads would surely be damaged by trucks traveling to and from the bauxite plants.
"The current traffic infrastructure cannot ensure smooth transport [for trucks from the plant]. There should be urgent upgrades," he said.
Last June, the Transport Ministry instructed the Vietnam Coal and Mineral Industries Corporation (Vinacomin) the project investor to survey and coordinate with local authorities the task of repairing roads to be used by the plant's trucks, according to the Lam Dong Transport Department.
A month later, Vinacomin reported that all related roads were in good conditions.
However, Director of the Lam Dong Transport Department, Nguyen Huu Hiep, said they have not received any report or coordination offer from Vinacomin. The roads are already overloaded and deteriorated. "It would take VND100 billion (US$4.86 million) to repair these roads," he said.
Meanwhile, a plan to build a detour through Bao Loc's Loc Thang Town, approved by the central government in October 2010, remains on paper, he said, adding that it will take at least two years once work begins on it.
In addition to Tan Rai, another bauxite mining plant that is being developed in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong has also triggered controversy. Many lawmakers severely criticized what they said was shortsighted approval granted to a project that would have dire environmental impacts.