Province may have overstepped with controversial project on Vietnam's main river

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Materials are dumped into the Dong Nai River to fill a part of it for a development. Photo: Le Lam Materials are dumped into the Dong Nai River to fill a part of it for a development. Photo: Le Lam

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State officials have expressed their concerns about a property project that is filling up a part of Vietnam’s longest river with rock and sand, saying they were never consulted.
Toan Thinh Phat Company in the southern province of Dong Nai, which neighbors Ho Chi Minh City, has been dumping rock and sand into the Dong Nai River in an attempt to fill up 77,200 square meters of it for a mixed-use development of houses, offices, shopping malls and a hotel. 
Bui Cach Tuyen, Vice Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said he only learned about the project from local media.
Tuyen said he was not consulted either as a vice minister or a vice chairman of Dong Nai River Basin Protection Committee, a government-appointed advisory body.
“The government of Dong Nai Province is doing this on their own.”
Le Thanh Cung, the committee's chairman, also said he knew nothing about the project until reading it on local newspapers this week.
Main water source
Dong Nai is the longest river within Vietnam, running over 586 kilometers from the Central Highlands to HCMC.
It supports nearly 20 million people and is a main water source for people in southern Vietnam, including 10 million in HCMC.
Experts have warned that the new project will cause erosion, change the current and pollute water in the river.
Hoang Van Bay, director of the Water Management Department at the environment ministry, said any rivers and streams in Vietnam are required to have a protection corridor of between five to 70 meters on each side.
The project has raised many questions because it not only goes against regulations of waterway protection but also shows Dong Nai Province’s inconsistent treatment toward the river.
The province has never allowed any construction activity near the river and used to work hard to protect it from several hydropower plant projects. 
'Blood veins'
Vu Ngoc Long, director of the Southern Institute of Ecology, said that the provincial government “is contradicting itself.”
Long said the filling is destructive just like a hydropower dam.
The construction will damage the river’s ecological system and then people living at the project may discharge waste directly into the river, he said. 
A poor community who is living along the river and directly depends on its resources will lose their livelihood, Long said, adding that he was sorry to hear about the project. 
The expert warned that without enough water from Dong Nai, the neighboring HCMC will struggle.
The brackish ecology at HCMC's Can Gio District will disappear as the water will turn salty, he said.
Le Anh Tuan, a climate change expert and an adviser of Vietnam Rivers Network, said Dong Nai River is a common property and the province should ask for opinions of independent experts, social groups and people before approving any activities that can affect it.
“Filling the river is exactly like restricting the veins that keep a body alive,” Tuan said.

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