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Environmental Impact Assessment for Tsunami memorial

Political changes have left a tsunami memorial project in Khao Lak Lamru national park mired in uncertainty as the government wants to correct problems left by the previous administration. Apinan Poshyananda, director of the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in charge of the project, said the interim government had suspended construction of the the memorial while environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies and public hearings for the 600-million-baht project, initiated by the deposed Thaksin Shinawatra government, were underway.

However, a three-million-baht budget set aside for the EIA process has yet to be approved.

''The project may take longer as it involves construction in a national park. A careful study of the environmental situation is needed,'' he said.

Mr Apinan said the memorial would consist of five main components _ the memorial ground, museum, tsunami study centre, an early warning centre and visitor complex.

The Thaksin government proposed the project last year as part of its plan for an annual high-profile commemorative event.

It also set aside a 1.5-billion-baht budget for the project, before cutting that back to 600 million baht.

Fifty million baht alone was spent on the design selection process which lasted several months.

The budget was for promotional campaigns and appointing international judges, most of them world-renowned architects and museum curators.

To hasten the process, the previous government approved the memorial construction without obtaining a permit for use of the national park from the National Park Committee. The decision met with fierce criticism from conservationists and scholars.

Under the original schedule, construction of the memorial would have begun around now, in time for the next tsunami anniversary on Dec 26, 2007.

Little has been done at the project site at Hat Lek Beach, except for a new shortcut. Someone has put in a small forest track cutting from the main road to the beach.

Jedkamchorn Phromyoti, president of the Association of Siam Architecture, one of the agencies on the design screening panel, urged the government to clear the air about the project.

The Spanish team, which won the design competition with its ''Mountain of Remembrance'' workpiece, had asked about the delay, as had the Spanish embassy.

''No one knows what will happen. We have no idea what the current government thinks about the project,'' he said.

Asst Prof Ariya Aruninta, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of architecture, said she disagreed with the choice of site, saying no construction should be allowed in a national park.

Such a large-scale project also went against the concept of the memorial which was to serve as a reminder of the loss of human life to nature.

Story from Bangkok Post, 29th December 2006. 
Comment on Environmental Impact Assessment for Tsunami Memorial
The fact that this construction project in a National Park has at least been postponed pending an environmental impact assessment represents at least a small hope that the trend for large construction projects in National Parks under the last government may be halted. Hopefully other natural areas may benefit from similar sentiments in the future and there will be no further developments like the ridiculous structures built in Khao Yai National park by the previous administration.
Nick Upton, 1st January 2007.
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