Administrative court orders temporary halt to 2.7 km Muang Ngam seawall

The Songkhla Administrative Court has issued a temporary injunction, halting construction of a 2.7 km seawall which will have an irreversible impact on the community and the environment with no proven effectiveness.

A seawall construction site at Muang Ngam Beach.

On 30 June, the Court issued the order to halt construction of the seawall at Muang Ngam beach, Singhanakhon District, Songkhla Province, until the Court makes a final judgement.

The order came after 5 Muang Ngam residents, with 541 supporters, filed a lawsuit on 14 May against the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning (DPT) and the Harbour Department, claiming that the project was illegitimate as there were no proper public hearings, Environmental Assessment Impact or legal permission.

The order, published by the Community Resource Centre Foundation, states that the over 200 metre long seawall may have an irreversible impact on the community and the surrounding beach. The DPT did not provide enough evidence to defend its claims that the seawall will preserve the beach and prevent erosion both at the site and on surrounding beaches.

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer from the Community Resource Centre Foundation, told Siamrath that the court issued a temporary order after consideration of the technical features and project merit. A report from the National Ombudsman found that only 30 percent of the seawall project was worthwhile.

Sor believes that this order will serve as a norm for similar cases. She suggests that other communities experiencing the same situation should utilize their legal rights to protect their livelihoods.

Siamrath also cited one of the plaintiffs as saying that the villagers are relieved to hear the court decision. But the community will have to keep insisting that the project must be withdrawn.

Muang Ngam beach is 7.2 km long, located at Muang Ngam Subdistrict, Singhanakhon District, Songkhla. The beach has a fishing pier and is used as a public recreation space and tourist spot. The 2,705 m long seawall construction project has taken place at Mu 7 - 9 along the beach. The first 710 m construction phase has already started.

Despite the authorities’ claim of having conducted public hearings, many people have expressed their opposition to the construction out of concern for the impact on the environment and their livelihoods. On 23 May, people tried to gather at the beach to protest but faced a large security force deployed there. Their request for a public gathering was also turned down by the police.

Death of the beach? Conflict over Songkhla seawall construction

Songkhla Police ban protest, claiming it violates Covid-19 Emergency Decree

Pol Col Somchai Noppasri, Muang Ngam Police Station Superintendent affirmed to Prachatai that he had refused the gathering because it would be held under the Emergency Decree and would enhance the risk of Covid-19 contagion.

Beach for Life, a beach conservation group, questions the necessity for the Muang Ngam seawall. It says that the erosion rate at the beach is 0.5-1.49 metres per year, according to the seawall project study. This rate is low when compared to the erosion rate index of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).

Padungdech Luepiyapanich of the Songkhla Provincial Public Works and Town and Country Planning Office says that the construction project is a controversial issue, but was initiated in response to a plea from the community as erosion affected their daily lives.

Law causes controversy

An amendment to a national level law is partly responsible for the local confrontation. In December 2013, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) removed seawalls from the category of constructions that require an EIA. Previously, any seawall longer than 200 metres was subject to the EIA process.

Beach for Life and Thai Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism report a significant increase in the number of seawall projects after the requirement was lifted. In 2014-2019, 74 seawall projects with total length of 34.88 km were undertaken with an overall budget estimated at 6.9 billion baht. In 2008-2018, the cost per kilometre increased to 117 million baht.