Questions galore as province lets housing developer fill Vietnam’s biggest river

By Dinh Son, Thanh Nien News

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A crane is picking up rock on a barge to dump into the Dong Nai River, filling a large part of it to make ground for a real estate project. Photo: Dinh Son A crane is picking up rock on a barge to dump into the Dong Nai River, filling a large part of it to make ground for a real estate project. Photo: Dinh Son

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People living along the Dong Nai, Vietnam’s biggest river, have slammed local authorities for allowing a property developer to fill a large part of it for a project.
They as well as experts are wondering if the approval was above board since it violates environmental norms and policies set by the local authorities themselves.
Toan Thinh Phat Corporation based in Dong Nai Province has been sending barges and trucks to fill a part of the river with rock and sand.
Thanh Nien observed last weekend that the dumping was extending more than 100 meters into the river.
The Dong Nai government has licensed the company for a mixed-use development at the site with housing, offices, a hotel, and a shopping mall.
The 84,000-square-meter development is set to use 77,200 square meters of the river, the longest to run within Vietnam at over 586 kilometers from the Central Highlands to Ho Chi Minh City.
Locals said the filling has been going on day and night for months.
They said the project is wrong in many ways.
The province has fixed a 20-meter corridor along the river where no construction is allowed.
A woman named Thanh said she and her neighbors have been living near the river for decades and were never allowed to add more floors.
“You ban people but allow a company; it’s so unfair,” she said.
Another local, who asked not to be named, said he and his neighbors were not informed or consulted about the project at all.
“The Dong Nai is a beautiful river. It would be very wrong if they fill it up for a property project.”
He said the authorities had banned construction close to the river to ensure the water flow is not affected.
But the project is virtually stopping the flow.
Many locals expressed concern that filling the river would push the water to the other bank and cause erosion.
They are also afraid that the current would change, creating an eddy that might destroy an islet in the area.
Nguyen Thanh Lam, deputy director of the Dong Nai Department of Transport, first agreed to speak to Thanh Nien but later backed out.
A messy precedent
Pham Sanh, a lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport, said no other place in Vietnam has dared to fill a river in this manner.
The Dong Nai River is already damaged by deforestation and dam construction upstream and the new project would make things worse, he said, referring to erosion as an example.
“You shouldn’t mess up with rivers. I can assure you that in this project the investor is the only winner, and people will die.”
Experts also pointed to fact that the Dong Nai is not just any river.
It supports nearly 20 million people and is a main water source for southern Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City.
Ngo Viet Nam Son, an architect with more than 20 years’ experience in planning and designing urban constructions, said the project would worsen pollution in the river.
In most riverside and coastal projects he had seen, authorities always had a 50-meter protection corridor, he said.
He said Dong Nai Province is creating a “bad precedent” by letting the company exceed all limits.
Dong Nai authorities do not even require the company to earmark 20 percent of the project area for low-cost houses, an obligation under the Housing Law.
“It’s easy for people to wonder if there are any secrets behind the deal.”
Cost and benefit
A press release for the project, Pegasus Residence, says the construction is expected to take nine years and cost around VND2.2 trillion (US$102.5 million), including VND110 billion for land clearance.
An economist said dumping rocks and sand into the river would save the company a lot of money compared to buying land and paying for relocating people.
Tho, who runs a café near the river, said the investor “will make a big profit.”
The company is already advertising sale of houses for VND8 billion, or more than $370,000.

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