Vietnam province refuses to pull plug on controversial river construction

By Dinh Son – Chi Nhan, Thanh Nien News

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The construction site in Dong Nai. Photo: Le Lam The construction site in Dong Nai. Photo: Le Lam

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Dong Nai Province in southern Vietnam has announced that it will not back down from a controversial property project which is filling a part of the country’s largest river, saying it’s not that big of a deal. 
The province said in a statement released Tuesday that it had studied carefully before deciding to greenlight the project in 2009, which will dump materials straight into the Dong Nai River to create an artificial land area of 77,200 square meters.
It spoke publicly for the project for the first time after Vietnam Rivers Network, the country’s largest advocacy group for water resource protection, on Monday asked it to end the construction, which has also drawn objection from central government officials, environmental experts and the community.
Le Viet Hung, director of the agriculture department, said: “There's no reason to ask us to stop this project.”
He said the province has gone through all necessary procedures to start the project and that the central government has no jurisdiction over it, given its small scale.
Nguyen Thanh Tri, vice chairman of the province, also said that “there will be no problems.”
Dong Nai is the longest river within Vietnam, running over 586 kilometers from the Central Highlands to Ho Chi Minh City.
It supports nearly 20 million people and is a main water source for people in southern Vietnam, including 10 million in Ho Chi Minh City.
Toan Thinh Phat Company, the project's investor, has been dumping rocks and sand into the river for months to prepare for the mixed-use development of houses, offices, shopping malls and a hotel.
Experts have warned that the project will cause erosion, change the current and pollute the river.
But Tran Dinh Minh, deputy director of Dong Nai’s agriculture department, said the main current is far from the bank and thus the ongoing construction “does not affect it at all.”
“The project is not that big of a deal,” Minh said, reflecting the province government’s point of view.
The project has drawn questions of whether the province is giving Toan Thinh Phat the carte blanche, but Minh said it does not matter who is the investor.
“Without an investor, we would use our budget to do it anyway.”
Huynh Phu Kiet, board chairman of the company, said it consulted environment, irrigation experts and architects in southern Vietnam before starting the project, the first one in the country that involves river filling.
But Le Anh Tuan, representative of Vietnam Rivers Network, said any piece of advice that backed up the project is not reliable now, even if it could be valid at the time.
Tuan said natural and human intervention has changed Dong Nai River’s conditions a lot the past five years.
Any surveys or calculations before that are out of date, he said.

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