Trouble arising when trying complete North-South Expressway project

Reports from the Economic Commission of the National Assembly on April 14 reveal that there is a serious lack of construction materials for the North-South Expressway project. As this happens in other major national projects as well, SGGP Newspaper has made an interview with Deputy Director General of the General Department of Geology and Minerals Lai Hong Thanh about mineral exploration and exploitation nationwide to ease the situation.

Deputy Director General of the General Department of Geology and Minerals Lai Hong Thanh

Discussing the scarcity of leveling materials to serve construction tasks in the North-South Expressway project, launched in 2017, Deputy Director General Lai Hong Thanh commented that this is not at all anything new, and many localities have cooperated to address it. He estimated that the whole project needs about 60.7 million cubic meters of leveling soil, 21.5 million cubic meters of rocks, and 10.8 million cubic meters of sand.

The design consultation team has proposed to use material mines for this task. Many of them are able to meet this demand, yet certain mines in some areas fail because of a long transport distance, leading to high cost and slow distribution rate. In addition, the exploitation permits of some mines are expired while others are waiting to be approved, which may take much time in accordance with the current law.

Before the launch of this important project, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) issued Circular No.01/2016/TT-BTNMT about technical regulations for the exploration task of river sand and gravel, soil and rock to serve as leveling materials. This circular aims at reducing the needed time for permit approval.

Lately, to address the urgent demand of those materials, MoNRE has issued another Document No.1488/BTNMT-ĐCKS about permit approval for the task of exploring and exploiting minerals to be common construction materials for the expressway project.

There is also a guidance to related regions about treating the dug soil as leveling material without the need to ask for permission.

Talking about the common concern that even with the implementation of legal documents by MoNRE, the time to wait for permit approval is still too long, the Deputy Director General admitted that since the Mineral Law was issued in 2010, it is quite outdated and many of the content need adjusting.

At the moment, his organization is evaluating the effectiveness of this law and identifying its inadequacies. Clearly, there is no specific regulation on the partnership or joint venture in mineral exploitation activities. There is also no synchronous investment regulation in case there is a capital change of business owners in enterprises having a mineral exploration and exploitation permit. The responsibilities of organizations or individuals for monitoring the real exploited mineral volume or for managing minerals in the bordering areas between two provinces are not clearly identified.

After a comprehensive evaluation, his organization will propose the amendment of the Mineral Law in the law building program in 2022 or 2023.

Right now, he proposed that authorized state agencies, in this case the National Assembly, consider the introduction of a specific resolution to further reduce the steps in the permit approval procedure just for the exploration and exploitation of mines to serve the North-South Expressway project.

However, he added that even the application of such a resolution still depends much on the localities, who have the full power to issue permits for those cases.

Answering the question about the potential of using ash and slag from thermal power plants or construction waste as leveling materials, Deputy Director General Thanh shared that it is essential to first evaluate the environmental impact of this action. But then, the volume of this by-product is not large enough to satisfy the high demand of the project.

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