Malaysian fishermen make final effort to stop land reclamation on Penang Island | Environmental News

george town, malaysia – Building three artificial islands from scratch off the coast of Penang Island in northwest Malaysia is no easy task. But the government of Penang, one of Malaysia’s smallest states, seems determined to take on the challenge.

The highly controversial Penang South Reclamation (PSR), approved in 2015 to fund the larger and much anticipated 46 billion Malaysian ringgit ($11 billion) Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) It was devised in The plan includes the development of a seamless new highway system. It is a tunnel connecting the mainland and the island, and a light rail system to ease traffic congestion on the island.

The project would create 4,500 acres (1,821 hectares) of land on three artificial islands, mostly car-free housing and construction of bamboo, wood, and recycled concrete for up to 15,000 people on each island. We are planning to establish an industrial area. Currently being touted as the main economic driver of Penang’s post-coronavirus economic recovery, its authors say the PSR will create 300,000 jobs over the next 30 years, reduce brain drain and help Penang’s It says it will guarantee a better future.

But environmentalists say the three islands, dubbed Biodiversity, are the state’s richest fisheries and most biodiverse region, with the sand equivalent to 76,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. He claims he will fill it. They are located just 250 meters (820 feet) from the island’s south coast. The state government insists there is no more land left for development on the island, which is a largely flat section called Seberang Perai in mainland Malaysia’s Penang state. This area is slightly larger than Singapore, with an area of ​​approximately 2.5 meters. -Half the size of a hilly island at your disposal.

Since the project was approved in 2015, people concerned about the dire environmental impact of land reclamation, who campaigned under Penang Trak Tambak (Penang Rejects Land Reclamation), and the state government. There is a constant tug-of-war between them and their loyal supporters. They claim this project is the only way to secure the economic growth they want for Penang.

Permatan Damar Laut beach in the southeast of Penang Island is one of the most pristine beaches on the island and will be the first area to be affected if the PSR project begins. [File: Marco Ferrarese/NDMT]

Representatives from the affected fishing communities, led by Sungai Batu Fishermen’s Association head Zakaria Ismail, are expected to lodge an appeal with the federal government this week, demanding that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project be withdrawn. As of this writing, construction has not yet begun due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My hope is that enough attention is paid to this issue,” Zakaria told NDMT. “The Environmental Management Plan report favors us fishermen and the federal government should cancel the PSR project.”

Impact assessment

Some experts say what looks good on paper may not be the wisest choice for Penang’s future.

The dredging and sand mining work required for the more than 20-year reclamation project will “lead to the destruction of seabed habitat, inhibit fish migration, impact on food web structure and deplete oxygen,” said a Penang-based environment and city official. policy researcher Evelyn Teh said. NDMT. The damage will also affect the northern coast of neighboring Perak state and fishing villages in the area. The cost of the project is also a concern. The original 2015 plan for the two islands was estimated at 8 billion Malaysian ringgit ($1.9 billion), according to the Penang Forum, a coalition of NGOs opposed to the PSR. In 2021, it rose to 7 billion Malaysian ringgit ($1.7 billion) for half an island.

A joint venture between the state government and the SRS consortium (a group of Malaysian companies led by construction giant Gamuda with a 60% stake) hopes to cover the cost of reclamation by selling the land for the first artificial island to the highest private bidder. ing. . SRS will hold 70% stake and the state government will hold only 30%.

The reclamation project is supposed to fund transportation plans on the congested island. [File: Kate Mayberry/NDMT]

Economist and former Penang Island councilor Lim Mah Hui, who is currently with the Penang Forum, said that under these circumstances, the state government would only receive about 600 million ringgit (145 million ringgit) over the next 10 years. It is estimated that the amount will remain at around $1,000,000. This is 1/10. Expected share of investment in the transport sector.

On June 24, Mr Lim told local broadcaster Astro Awani that the Penang Forum was not opposed to the state’s development as long as it was done in a sustainable manner. But PSR appears to have turned into a mega-construction project, he said. Mr Lim also said the PSR’s 1,000-page environmental impact assessment did not consider alternatives to land reclamation, such as building a comparable development site in mainland Penang. He said the construction would permanently change the region’s coastal mudflats.

Six years ago, the Penang Forum proposed an alternative to the PTMP. The “better, cheaper, faster” proposition is built around Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART), a system of trackless tramways that will cost less than 10 billion Malaysian ringgit ($2.36 billion). He also proposed a less damaging approach. “Sarawak and Johor went ahead, but we didn’t,” Lim said, referring to Malaysia’s other two states.

Hot button issue

In early May, Nurul Isa Anwar, daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and MP for Permatan Pau constituency in Penang mainland, became the first MP of a party within Penang’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. and expressed opposition as a member of a political party within Penang’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. project.

Her main concern was that the PSR would consume significant resources and take focus away from the fight against coronavirus at home and much-needed development on the mainland.

“The ongoing political dynamics in Malaysia are creating an insurgency in the state government.” [like Penang] It relies heavily on natural resources that can be monetized, i.e. existing land and reclaimed land,” Nurul Izzah told NDMT. “In Penang and other states, we are seeing an unsustainable trade-off between limited state finances and the environment.”

Federal government ministers from the rival Perikatan National Coalition (PN) have also said the project is unnecessary and unsustainable. But as a rebel-run province with limited financial support from federal authorities, land sales are one of the few ways the province can raise money.

Penang State Infrastructure and Transport Commission chairman Zairil Khil Johari said this was nothing more than political bullying. “They do not seem to have any concerns about reclamation projects in PN-led states such as Kedah, Johor, Terengganu, Kelantan and Melaka,” Zairil wrote on his blog.

The most controversial of Malaysia’s projects is the one backed by China. Forest City in Johor state has been criticized for its impact on fisheries, seaweed beds, mangrove forests and relations with neighboring Singapore. Malacca Gateway is a port and cruise terminal that was part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but was shut down on November 16 last year without explanation.

The reclamation of Forest City in the southern state of Johor, which overlooks Singapore, also caused controversy. [File: Edgar Su/Reuters]
Malacca’s fishing community has long blamed large-scale reclamation projects for damaging fish stocks and clogging waterways with sand. [File: Kate Mayberry/NDMT]

The project left reclaimed sand embankments along the coast of the city, which, like Penang, is a World Heritage Site. Residents also oppose the Malacca Waterfront Economic Zone, a 22-kilometer (14-mile)-long reclamation project that would endanger the state’s last coast and major fishing grounds.

Zailir, whose Tanjung Bungah constituency on Penang Island falls, frequently faces problems of flooding and landslides due to hillside development, but the state government is seeking appropriate measures to ensure future economic development. They say they need to find a landfill. Mr Zairil says Penang is looking for jobs, not other forest cities.

He added that there was “no Great Barrier Reef” in the PSR region, but “shallow, murky water” (a claim quickly denied by experts) that could easily be sacrificed for economic development. Ta.

Zairil’s latest statement appears to contradict the state government’s previous position.

In November 2018, just a few months before the opening of the second IKEA Malaysia store in the newly developed area of ​​Batu Kawan on mainland Malaysia, Penang State Chief Minister Chow Kon Yew announced that the area would be home to many people. The Penang Chief Minister was quoted in The Star as saying that the city has the potential to attract investors.

“It is not true that there is no more land for development on the mainland,” Alan Teh told NDMT. Teh is the founder of Atelier Alan Teh Architect and often oversees projects in mainland Penang.

“The state government has expanded the industrial land bank.” [on the mainland] in Batu Kawan due to overwhelming demand. Logically speaking, it would be cheaper, faster, and more sustainable to acquire or convert private farmland to development land, and state governments would have the option of converting land use rates (by zoning rate or density) in the area. Or, there are powers and rights to increase. It is allocated to special national initiative projects,” he said.

learn from past mistakes

Penang doesn’t need to see what happened in Malacca to understand the risks of land reclamation and megaprojects.

Launched in 2006, the Seri Tanjung Pinang (STP) 1 reclamation project has cleared 240 acres (97 hectares) off the island’s north coast to build some of Penang’s most luxurious real estate . A second 760-acre (307.5-hectare) site is currently under construction, with 131 acres (53-hectare) set aside for the Penang State Government.

But by 2018, local fishermen lamented the disappearance of once-abundant fish and crustaceans. And the promised development has remained stalled and unfinished since September 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the pace of life and business.

Zakaria said that even when Penang completed construction of a second bridge connecting it to the mainland in 2014, sludge from underwater drilling affected water turbidity and reduced fish populations for the next five years. said.

He added that the move towards PSR could mean the end of Penang’s fresh seafood supply.

“The state government must ensure that the people of Penang have enough food because unbalanced development means there will be surplus money but insufficient food,” he said.

The Penang state government paid the fishermen a one-time payment of 20,000 Malaysian ringgit (about $5,000) and promised them either guaranteed employment during the 10-year reclamation period or upgrades to new boats and engines.

He also said a new pier would be built to allow fishermen to go out to sea even at low tide. But few think that’s enough for the uncertain future we now face.

“Who do these mega-projects benefit?” asked Mr Teh, noting that Penang Island’s past reclamation projects provided very limited recreational space to the public. “Only the state and the super-rich lose their livelihoods to land reclamation projects, at the expense of the environment and low- and middle-income people.”

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