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Xayaburi Dam, Mekong River Hydroelectric Project, In Laos Remains Contested (VIDEO)

First Posted: 12/16/11 05:01 PM ET Updated: 12/16/11 05:02 PM ET

A proposed dam project in Southeast Asia is drawing greater concerns as it pits opportunities for economic and infrastructural developments against environmental worries.

A final decision on the Xayaburi Dam, a hydroelectric project that may be built on the Mekong River in northern Laos, has been delayed, however. The Mekong River commission, an agency representing the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam announced that the dam's impact would receive further study, according to the Associated Press.

Yet the commission's recommendation for further study is non-binding. AP reports "there are signs that Laos is starting preparations for the project."

Environmentalists celebrated the dam's postponement. Ame Trandem, the Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers said, "Today the Mekong governments responded to the will of the people of the region. We welcome the recognition that not nearly enough is known about the impacts of mainstream dams to be able to make a decision about the Xayaburi Dam."

Among environmental concerns is the protection of the Mekong River region's biodiversity. Scientists announced this week that 208 new species were discovered in the region in the past year, including a "'psychedelic gecko' in southern Vietnam and a nose-less monkey in a remote province of Myanmar that looks like it wears a pompadour."

The recent announcement is not the first delay for the dam, which would be the first across the main stream of the Mekong and would reportedly cost $3.5 billion. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Laos took a "forward-leaning position" by delaying dam construction, according to the Associated Press.

Watch the video above from journalist Gayathri Vaidyanathan about the disputed benefits and drawbacks of the Xayaburi Dam and concerns over future dam construction in the region.

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Filed by James Gerken  |