Airport project complains about EIA review orderThe supplementary environmental impact assessment report will take months and further delay work at Pokhara International Airport, officials say.
Euphoria turned to confusion after the approval given to the Pokhara airport project to cut down trees and flatten a hill near the runway came with a rider that a supplementary environmental impact assessment (EIA) be carried out first, officials said.
Last month, the cabinet had cleared the way for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to remove trees and two hilltops below the approach path, allowing it to start the final phase of the construction work at Pokhara International Airport.
According to Civil Aviation officials, the environmental review report will take months and further delay the project which is already running late due to Covid-19.
The cabinet had finally given the green signal to the Civil Aviation Authority to clear the forest on Ritthepani hill on March 4 after holding back for several months.
The proposal was tabled by the Ministry of Forests and Environment.
“We have asked the Tourism Ministry to consider the issue as it will take months to prepare the supplementary EIA to clear the forest on Ritthepani hill,” said Pradip Adhikari, chief of the national pride projects under the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. “The ministry is positive.”
According to officials, the Ministry of Forests and Environment may table another proposal to get around the supplementary EIA.
A supplementary EIA report is submitted where the original or full EIA report is incomplete, or further work on environmental effects has been undertaken, or if the project has been modified since the original application and EIA report were submitted.
A supplementary EIA report should make clear which parts of the original EIA report are being supplemented or revised.
According to project officials, 600 trees, among them 80 large ones, need to be felled. The project also needs to lop off the top of two hills at Ritthepani by 40 and 12 metres respectively.
The officials said that since the airport is a national pride project, they had sought permission to complete it on a fast track.
“But we were surprised to see the cabinet decision which has laid down a condition to conduct the supplementary EIA,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
“The issue is of only 600 trees. It’s not a big one like in other projects. We don’t understand why the government intentionally wants to delay the project.”
The project officials said that it would take months to complete the EIA process, which generally consists of a set of procedural steps. After the EIA is approved, it will take at least six months to cut the trees and flatten the hill near the eastern end of the runway.
“We cannot say when the project will be completed.”
Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said that they had informed the Tourism Ministry about the issue and sought help to speed up the process.
The runway of Pokhara International Airport is 45 metres wide and 2,500 metres long, and has an east-west orientation.
Located at Chinnedanda, 3 km east of the existing domestic airport, it will be Nepal's third international hub. The airport is the aerial gateway to the Annapurna region in the Himalaya, one of the country's most popular trekking destinations.
Pokhara International Airport is located at an altitude of 800 metres above sea level, and has a one-way approach system, like at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. There is no possibility of expanding the airport as it sits in a narrow valley.
As per the current timetable, all tasks—including installation and tests of navigation and meteorological equipment, and certification of the airport—may be completed and the airport ready for operation by the beginning of 2022, officials said.
But doing a supplementary EIA may push back the completion date to 2023, according to project officials.
The airport would have been ready on July 10, 2021, six months ahead of the completion deadline, if Covid-19 had not got in the way.
According to the project, 28 percent of the works remained to be completed—10 percent civil works and 18 percent installation works.
China CAMC Engineering won the construction contract for the project in May 2014, and work started in July 2017. The government signed a $215.96 million soft loan agreement with China EXIM Bank in March 2016 to finance the airport built on engineering procurement and construction model.
Under this model, a single contractor takes responsibility for all components like design, engineering, construction and procurement. The contract binds the contractor to deliver the project at the stipulated time and predetermined price regardless of any possible cost overruns.
The runway will be able to handle medium-range commercial aircraft such as the Airbus A320, Boeing 737 and Boeing 757.
The airport will have a 1,200-metre-long and 23-metre-wide taxiway connecting the runway with the parking bays, hangars and terminals.
The main international terminal building has a capacity to handle 650 passengers per hour.
The airport will have three parking bays for A320-type jets with aerobridge facility and five parking bays for ATR-type aircraft. There will be a separate terminal and parking bay for domestic flights.