Vietnam province threatens to cancel slow dam projects

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The central province of Quang Nam has told the owners of three hydropower plant projects to speed up construction or end up like 19 others that have been suspended or canceled.

The Quang Nam People's Committee -- the local government -- has instructed project investors to submit plans about speeding up construction by November 15, according to a statement made by the committee's deputy chairman Dinh Van Thu at a meeting with investors on Tuesday.

Construction began on the three power plants -- Tr'Hy, Dak Mi 2 and Dak Mi 3 -- five years ago.

But work is far from completion and only VND300 billion of the projects' total registered investment of VND4.5 trillion (US$216.14 million) has been spent.

Thu said the plants are relatively large for Vietnam and if the investors fail to produce clear plans to finish the plants and housing for the displaced soon, the committee would ask the central government to cancel them.

Dak Mi 2's main investor told the meeting that project would be done in 2016 while the owners of the other two pledged to be done in 2014.

Quang Nam has plans for a total of 44 hydropower plants, the largest number of any city and province in Vietnam.

But local authorities suspended work on 17 projects earlier this month, and canceled two others, stating that each of the projects' losses outweighed their gains. Seven other plants are already in operation in the province and eight others are under construction.

Officials said the dams have destroyed forests and cultivable land and disrupted vast ecosystems. Local rivers are being dried out and there is now a shortage of water every dry season, while downstream areas flood every wet season.

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Other provinces in central Vietnam, which has the largest number of hydropower plants in the country at around 200, have also begun to take a more scrupulous look at their projects.

Industry authorities in Quang Ngai have called on provincial and central governments to cancel eight proposed hydropower projects. The local and central governments have approved 23 hydropower projects in the province, but only three are operating while two others are being built.

Quang Nam Province is also home to the largest dam in the central region the Song Tranh 2 -- which has caused hundreds of earthquakes since it was completed in late 2011, the largest one reaching a magnitude of 4.6 in October. 

Experts said the dam was built directly on fault lines, thus increasing the chances of earthquakes due to increased water pressure.

After many negotiations, the dam investor, state-owned monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, has agreed to pay between VND2-4 million for each damaged house and VND30 million for damaged public buildings.

More than 850 houses and seven public buildings have developed cracks following the dam-induced earthquakes.

The dam was also criticized in November 2011, along with other hydropower plants in the region, including the large A Vuong dam, for worsening floods that killed 24 people. They released excess water from their reservoirs without giving local residents enough advance notice.

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