Ministry Takes Bids to Dredge Sand From Over 2,000 Hectares Near Coast

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A sand dredging boat docks close to the coast at Ream bay in Preah Sihanouk province on January 3, 2021. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

The Mines and Energy Ministry is seeking bids to dredge sand from more than 2,000 hectares along the coasts of Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces, saying the work is needed to “restore waterways.”

The ministry will convene an information session later this month about the bidding process, after issuing a letter signed by Energy Minister Suy Sem on November 30.

Seven zones — three in Koh Kong and four in Preah Sihanouk — are up for grabs, with a total of 2,143 hectares, according to the letter.

Ministry spokesperson Yos Mony Rath said the main reason for the dredging would be to “restore waterways and flows,” because sand builds up in those areas, which become too shallow.

He said nearby developments also needed sand for landfill, and as a secondary reason the dredging licenses would bring in revenue for the government, though he could not estimate how much.

“As there were many companies demanding [sand], we decided to open it up for competitive bidding to see which companies could provide the most benefit to the state,” he said.

A map of new sand mining concessions, totaling 2,143 hectares in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces. The Mines and Energy Ministry announced a bid for the seven concessions in a letter dated November 30, 2020. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)
A map of new sand mining concessions, totaling 2,143 hectares in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces. The Mines and Energy Ministry announced a bid for the seven concessions in a letter dated November 30, 2020. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

Environmental impact assessments would be conducted by the bidding companies, not the ministry, he added. The sand would be only for domestic use, not export, Mony Rath said.

According to provincial spokespeople, the only development in the area needing large amounts of sand is Canopy Sands’ Ream City development in Preah Sihanouk, a $16-billion, 834-hectare development along a beach in Prey Nob district. The project was announced in February last year and is slated to house resorts, hotels, restaurants, condominiums, residences and commercial spaces.

Koh Kong spokesperson Sok Sothy said there were no applicable development projects in his province. “There have been big projects, but they likely don’t need more landfill,” Sothy said.

Preah Sihanouk spokesperson Kheang Phearum said that “regarding development companies that need sand for landfill, now there is only one company, in Ream.” He added, however, that only one of three sand dredging companies in the province were currently active.

Coastal sand dredging has a controversial history, with protesters arrested in 2017 while monitoring shipping operations, and a sand export ban put in place in Koh Kong.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, founder of environmental activist group Mother Nature, said he was concerned that the new sand-dredging operations would impact fishers’ livelihoods, as they had in the past.

When he previously worked with Koh Kong residents, they told him there were no areas with blocked flows and in need of dredging, Gonzalez-Davidson said.

“Even though this time they said the sand is to meet local demand, we are concerned that one day it could be diverted for export like before,” he said. “And even if the sand dredging sand is for local use only, the impact on the environment will be serious.”

Gonzalez-Davidson also called for greater transparency, including the release of environmental impact assessments.

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