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Phuket's governor and his wife get behind a banner and a new road

Phuket Governor's Road Trip: Wheels Set in Motion

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
THE GOVERNOR carried his campaign for new roads on Phuket to the brink today . . . the brink of a mangrove forest, which also happened to be the figurative brink of a political morass.

Hundreds of locals and a cross-section of dignitaries turned out to mark the beginning of what's now a Queen's Birthday special project: the creation of a 600-metre road link from Phuket City's Saphan Hin public park to the Sakdidet Road junction.

If the governor actually goes ahead and signs for construction of the road to begin, he could face arrest because the project has yet to win the approval of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

However, when it comes to roads on Phuket, Governor Wichai Praisa-nob is definitely keen to become a trail-blazer.

At his instigation, the issue of the Saphan Hin road and the proposed new link between Patong and Chalong were set for discussion by Thailand's Cabinet on Tuesday, but will now be rescheduled for August 18.

Today the governor told the crowd that the Saphan Hin road project was ideal for the Queen's Birthday. A large portrait of HM the Queen was the centrepiece of today's commemoration.

Another speaker won loud cheers when he said that if he comes to Phuket, Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti should ''walk in the mangrove forest not on the roads.''

''We've been waiting for this project for 20 years,'' the speaker said, to applause.

More than 500 people turned out today to listen to the governor and other officials before he cut a ribbon marking the beginning of the project.

Monks, Muslim dignitaries, Sikh and Hindu community leaders all took part in the ceremony, along with local schoolchildren wielding banners of support.

It would appear on the strength of today's gathering that the governor not only has won the hearts and minds of locals to his cause, but feet and wheels as well.

It's an intense local debate that will lead on to the broader and more significant debate about the Patong-Chalong route, a rough track that can already be traversed by four-wheel vehicles, even though a proper road above 80 metres through Phuket's green ban zone needs Environment Ministry approval.

The Patong-Chalong link would cut travel time by three-quarters and open the entire south of the island to speedy access from the tourist heartland that is the best-known western beach resort.

Does the island need it? There are good arguments to be made for both a Yes case and a No case. The governor supports the Yes case, but there could be plenty of passion and political muscle behind the No case, too.

For now, the Saphan Hin-Sakdidet Road link appears to be a no-contest. The vast majority of locals want it, and they seem prepared to wave banners saying so. If there are local opponents, they are nowhere to be seen.

Given his new-found status as leader of the ''Asean Summit island,'' the place where international faith in Thailand was restored, and where 16 national leaders will congregate in October, the governor has a better than even chance of winning Cabinet support next Tuesday.

The Patong-Chalong route, though, is likely to inflame the passions of a wider debate about Phuket's future, pitching the develop-or-bust school of thinking against conservationists and so-called ''greenies.''

Once one hilltop falls, what about the rest? The argument that Phuket needs a green zone above 80 metres, in which construction is prohibited, begins to disintegrate if exceptions are allowed for roads.

Elsewhere, similar debates have led to protesters throwing themselves in the path of bulldozers. On Phuket, though, the route has already been carved out.

The governor, some people will say, merely wants to widen it and give it a proper surface. That debate has yet to begin in earnest.

For now, the test of nerve is being played out close to a mangrove forest in Phuket City, on the brink of a political morass.

Perhaps it would be a suitable compromise if the governor promised to plant 100 new mangroves for every one that the bulldozers displace?

That's one potential compromise that could get the road built speedily.

Fortuitously for the Yes case, the large crowd that gathered today also came to see the new Red Cross Blood Bank opened, just nearby.

Coincidentally, the governor also happens to be the patron of Phuket Red Cross.

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Comments

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I have myself inspected the site of the proposed Saphan Hin-Sakdided road, 500 of the 600 m run right through natural and as yet undisturbed mangrove habitat.

However, it is clear that the road must be built to connect the two existing dead-end divided (4-lane) roads at each end. It will be one of the last links of a main circular road around Phuket.

However, the mangroves need to be preserved as well, as much as is possible.Therefore the road should not be built on a landfill causeway, but on pillars, at least for most of the way, so that seawater can flow freely in both directions under the road. There are still about 60 rai of natural mangrove habitat left to the north of this road, which have even been made accessible by a boardwalk constructed by the Marine and Coastal Resources Department and which gives access to school students to get to know and learn about this environment. It is the only such facility I know off this close to town. Constructing a causeway would stop the waterflow and kill this mangrove forest.

Incidentally the photo which was published in Phuketwan earlier showing the gate from the school leading to the mangrove forest is mis-leading. The nearest point on the proposed road from this gate is 60 m away. In other words the architect who determined the position of this gate made a mistake, as the new road does NOT border the school along all of its boundary, only at the most northeasterly corner of the school grounds where the present entrance is located.

Posted by Guenter Bellach on August 12, 2009 15:15

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The law should be followed. Hard to complain where laws are not enforced or followed when the biggest figure on Phuket seems to be happy to break a law also. Whether the roads are good or bad ideas should not override the law.

Sadly, official figures often seem more interested in leaving a legacy (note the mess called the Phuket Gateway) rather than doing what's needed. Often what's really needed are small, local projects that don't come with the 'glory' of a large-scale project.

Officials are the same worldwide, sadly.

Posted by Duncan on August 12, 2009 15:18


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