If the Ngarchelong State residents and several members of the Palauan community had their way, the proposed 50-year sand mining project should be stopped because it could be ruinous to the country’s environment.

A joint venture project signed by the former administration of Ngarchelong State and a Japanese firm- RAM Corporation Inc.  will allow a mining operation at the reefs of the state-  a known fishing ground for the residents and habitat for endangered species such as dugongs.

On Saturday night, close to 70 people attended a public hearing called by the Environment Quality Protection Board (EQPB) to get feedback from the community about the proposed project. Those who attended the hearing are irked by the possibility that this project will get the green light.

Ann Singeo, Executive Director Ebiil Society said the project should be rejected because it will destroy the country.

“This is devastating to Palau’s environment, this needs to be stopped,” Singeo added.

“This is not a smart development and should not be encouraged in Palau.”

She said allowing this operation will set a bad precedent to the country’s development and open it to environmental exploitation.

“The People of Palau that came to participate in that public hearing are also people all over Palau, they understand how dangerous this project is,” Singeo said.

The proposed project is supposed to improve existing harbors in the state, develop marine navigational channels and conduct sand mining operation.

According to the agreement signed by the former Ngarchelong Governor Browny Salvador and the RAM Corporation, the project is aimed at improving the economy of the state.

The Japanese company will put in the investment and pay the fees in the project but the Ngarchelong State’s contribution to the joint venture will be “all government licenses, approvals, and permits, including but not limited to an earthmoving permit from the Palau Environmental Quality Protection Board and any required clearances from the Palau Historic Preservation Office as may be necessary to conduct the sand mining operation.

In the Saturday’s public hearing, several residents were surprised at the proposed project’s scope. The community opposed the unlimited sand mining that the company will be allowed to do under the agreement.

Singeo said that some residents voiced out their experience in previous hearings where the former administration has notified the community that the agreement is done the deal and that there is no longer an opportunity to hear their concerns about the project.

“It is not a done deal. The hope is that EQPB become a crucial point of advocacy, the buck stops there. It doesn’t matter if they have passed a resolution, signed a contract, the ultimate decision to be made is by the EQPB, if they permit the project, “Singeo said.

She said EQPB can stop the project despite the pronouncement from the previous administration and the company that the contract has been signed.

The residents said the location of the project is the home reefs and seagrass bed in the north of Palau.

Ngarchelong is also home to numerous endangered species such as dugongs, turtles, stingrays, eagle rays and other fish species.

The community also depend on the sea for their food and livelihood that permitting such a project would endanger not only the environment but impact the community’s food security.

The proposed project aims to dredge sand for the next 50 years with a promise of 35 percent of the sand mining profits to be given to the state for any sale of the marine sand.

In exchange of the company providing equipment for the sand mining, Ngarchelong State will provide a suitable marine site for free of charge.

The former governor of Ngarchelong State, Browny Salvador, reportedly signed the joint venture agreement on behalf of the state in August of 2017. (Bernadette H. Carreon)