Company covers up dam breakage, floods fields

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  A view of the dam at Dakrong Hydropower Plant 3, located in the north-central province of Quang Tri, which broke on October 7.

The company operating an unfinished hydropower plant in the north-central province of Quang Tri has come under fire after it was found covering up a break in the dam and preventing local authorities from inspecting the facility.

On October 7, a section of the Dakrong Hydropower Plant 3 dam, located in Ta Long Commune, Dakrong District, broke, flooding nearby fields.

However, it was not until October 13 that the Truong Son Hydropower Joint Stock Company, which owns the plant, admitted that the incident had even occurred.

At a meeting with officials from the Quang Tri People's Committee on that day, representatives from the privately-owned company said the accident happened while the plant was experimenting with water storage. They said construction at part of the dam was not finished and torrential rains from typhoon Gaemi, which hit the region that same night, added to the problem.

The local government called the meeting after residents complained that their fields had been destroyed by flooding from the break.

The breach was 20 meters in length and six meters in height.

Water rushing from the dam washed away dozens of tons of newly-harvested cassava and rice in nearby fields that belong to residents in Ta Long and Dakrong communes.

No casualties were reported but the damage to the dam and local fields has been estimated at around VND20 billion (US$960,000) in total, the company said.

When the dam broke, Truong Son did not immediately report the problem to local authorities. Pham Van Hung, vice chairman of the Dakrong District People's Committee, said security guards from the company also prevented local officials from entering the plant to inspect the dam.

Hung said the company also violated regulations when the dam began storing water before the company had compensated displaced families. By law, project investors must complete all compensation payments before operations begin.

A Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper report quoted company director Nguyen Thanh Hai as saying that he did not want to wait three months until the monsoon passed to start storing water.

To make the situation worse, Mai Van Hue, the company's board chairman, told the press on October 14 that the break was deliberate, and the incident did not cause any losses, an announcement that ran contrary to the company's previous statement about the damages.

He said the company allowed workers to break the wall, which was built only to temporarily experiment with water storage, after the job was finished.

Tran Anh Tuan, vice chief-of-staff at the Quang Tri Province People's Committee, who spoke on behalf of the committee chairman, told the press on October 15 that Truong Son had disregarded the lives and property of local residents.

Authorities said they would force the company to pay families that had to relocate from the area and those affected by the recent flooding. An investigation of the plant has been ordered, in which sections of the dam will be scrutinized and the quality of construction assessed.

However, no punitive measures have been taken against the company.

Following the incident, the provincial government has ordered its Department of Industry and Trade to work with companies owning and operating 10 small and medium-sized hydropower plants in the province to inspect each dams' reservoirs.

The Dakrong 3 Hydropower Plant started storing water on September 25, with a planned power output of eight megawatts. Construction was started in August 2010 and cost VND210 billion ($10 million).

The dam is one of four located on a river more than 60 kilometers long. Two of these are under construction.

It is also one of around 40 small-scale plants in central Vietnam, defined as those with a capacity of less than 30 megawatts.

Quang Nam Province, which has the most hydropower plants in the region (44), recently canceled two small projects because officials said they would cause too much environmental damage and provide too little energy.

Central Vietnam has the largest number of hydropower plants in the country, at around 200.

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