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Consolidated port facility planned to allow hauling work to continue

Zhu Jubao has witnessed the changes of scenery along the Yangtze River outside his village in the western suburbs of Ruichang, Jiangxi province.

"During my childhood, the banks were green, and I used to catch fish and shrimp along the banks of the river," the 55-year-old recalled.

Since the late 1990s, small docks have gradually come to occupy the banks, where barges stayed busy shuttling stone and sand from the quarries and brickyards that mushroomed in the neighborhood.

"Roads along the bank became dusty on sunny days and muddy on rainy days," Zhu said. "No one wanted to come near the bank except the trucks."

Around 60 docks stood along the 20-kilometer shoreline in Ruichang during the heyday of the area"s rock and sand mining business a decade ago.

Wu Yongjian, director of the comprehensive Yangtze protection bureau of Ruichang, said many local villagers set up illegal docks between 2008 and 2013 to transport rock and ore for private mining companies. Twenty-four illegal docks were removed last year, and the environment of a section several kilometers long was restored with trees and bushes, Wu said.

"It"s a hard battle," Wu said. "But with joint efforts from the public security bureau and maritime safety administration, we managed to shut down all the illegal ones."

To that Zhu added: "Now that the riverside has turned green again, I stroll along the bank every evening with my wife."

To prevent the revival of the illegal docks, the city established a company shared by the government and a dozen dock owners and planned to build a large port with an investment of 500 million yuan ($73.5 million).

"The company will operate the port, and the owners will divide the profits," Wu said.

The crackdown on illegal docks and the consolidation of smaller ones into larger and more modern ports - to increase efficiency and reduce environment impact - like the one in Ruichang, has been taking place along the Yangtze over the past two years.

In Jiangxi province last year, a total of 79 illegal docks along its 152-km bank were torn down. In upstream Hubei province, 498 illegal docks have been shut down or upgraded since 2016.

"This is an unprecedented crackdown in the history of the river," said Wang Yanghong, director of the port and shipping administration bureau of Hubei province.

"The campaign was carried out despite great cost, with no reservations or conditions, just a single goal - to protect our common Mother River," he said.

The crackdown campaign was initiated in 2016 by the leading group for promoting the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, which formed in 2014 and is currently headed by Vice-Premier Han Zheng.

President Xi Jinping said at a symposium of the group in Wuhan, Hubei province, in April that the top priority is protecting and cleaning the environment along the river. From the beginning of 2016 to April this year, 959 illegal ports along the Yangtze have been dismantled, while 402 have been modified to meet the requirements in the past two years.

Only one-third of the riverbank will be allowed for production purposes, such as cargo ports and riverside industrial parks, under a master plan designed by Changjiang Water Resources Commission in September 2016.

"The rest of the banks are left for environmental purposes, as well as leisure for people," said Luo Xiaoyong, deputy director of the commission under the Ministry of Water Resources.

"Together with related government organs, we are designing a negative list that will restrict building new projects harmful to the environment along the riverbank."

Liu Kun contributed to this story.