Sand mining plan opposed in Palau

A Japanese company's plan to dredge an unlimited amount of sand in northern Palau for the next 50 years poses serious threats to the environment and peoples' livelihoods, an NGO says. Picture: RNZ

A Japanese company’s plan to dredge an unlimited amount of sand in northern Palau for the next 50 years poses serious threats to the environment and peoples’ livelihoods, an NGO says.

The Executive Director of environmental group Ebiil Society, Ann Singeo, said the venture between the Ngarchelong State Government and the Japanese RAM Corporation was agreed to last year before the public was consulted.

The community is now awaiting a decision from the Environmental Quality Protection Board as to whether a permit for the mine will be granted.

Ms Singeo said the venture gave just 35 percent of the profits to the state and nothing directly to the communities affected.

“[RAM Corporation] is not even paying a lease or anything for the area they are going to be mining – it’s free. Even the areas they’re proposing to put plants on offices on on land – free. The water they’re going to be using to rinse the material – free. They’re basically getting this entire reef for free.

“Sixty-five percent [of profit] goes to the company, and 35 percent goes to the state. No royalty will be paid to the local community, no income tax, no lease payment. We get 35 percent – and that’s if they sell the sand.”

Ms Singeo said local people had a special relationship with the ocean, which was home to numerous endangered species including dugongs, turtles and stingrays.

“Palau is known for its underwater. The area they are proposing to mine is the second biggest reef area in Palau, but its also the most pristine one. The southern lagoon, which is the largest reef area in Palau, has had a lot of human activities and tourist impacts.

“But up north, here in our community, it feels so pristine. And the community is still very closely connected to their environment, to their ocean. So they have personal relationships that gives it a feeling of its life and that it’s not just an ocean to be exploited – it’s so much more than that.”

She added: “the area that’s going to be mined … it’s bigger than the core central state of Palau – it’s massive. Not only is it going to have devastating impacts to the ocean, but will completely change the lives of the people who live in this community.”

The former governor of Ngarchelong State, Browny Salvador, is understood to have visited Japan to have signed the joint venture agreement on behalf of the state in August 2017.

Ms Singeo said over the weekend, dozens of Ngarchelong State residents filled the community centre to voice their concerns over the proposal. Many were angered by the lack of communication and consultation on the project.

The community would continue to fight against the proposal, Ms Singeo said.

The new governor, Richard Ngiratrang, has told the community he will revisit the agreement signed between RAM Corporation and the state.

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