EIA report on Penang highway ‘fundamentally flawed, plagiarised’, says group

GEORGE TOWN: A study released by a coalition of groups in Penang has found that the environmental assessment of a planned mega highway to be tunnelled through the island’s hills failed to quantify the significant risk to the environment as required under federal law.

Penang Forum, in studying the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) highway project, said the project should be “rejected or completely redone” on the basis of the EIA report alone.

In a statement posted on its website, it said the EIA was “fundamentally flawed” and that data had been found to be plagiarised from other sources.

It said the plagiarised portion appeared to have used data extracted from a local magazine.

The study by the forum’s panel of 31 professionals in the field and 20 contributors with PhDs and master’s degrees in relevant sectors found many glaring issues with the EIA report.

The report has been submitted to the energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry and the Penang chief minister.

Chief among the forum’s concerns was that the EIA did not meet standards set by federal law, as the report failed to show alternate solutions or assure that the project would have a minimal impact on the environment.

“In other words, viable alternative proposals for cheaper, faster, more environmentally sustainable and less destructive solutions to tackle transport mobility and traffic congestion have not been considered or evaluated,” the forum said.

It added that the EIA itself had noted that the PIL 1 highway would be congested again by 2030, about five to seven years after project completion.

“In other words, the PIL 1 is not a medium-term, let alone a long-term, solution to the problem it sets out to resolve,” it said.

The group also highlighted the lack of a proper cost-benefit analysis, which takes into account present and future costs and external factors such as economic, environmental, social and health costs.

It urged the Department of Environment (DoE) to evaluate the project on professional and scientific grounds, “without political considerations”.

“This is in line with the prime minister’s directive that civil servants carry out their duties ‘menurut amanah dan bukan menurut arahan’,” it said.

The forum said for the time being, an independent and professional technical panel ought to look into the EIA report, without the participation of the contractors and proponents of the project.

It said the committee should then make its findings public.

The RM7.5 billion PIL 1 has caused unrest among residents and groups who are afraid of its environmental impact, as sensitive hill areas will be tunnelled through using a “drill and blast” method and close to 4,000kg of explosives.

This was after the EIA itself said the tunnelled areas ran the risk of “collapse and subsidence” through fragile areas near granitic fault lines.

The EIA report also stated that “areas intersecting with fault zones are highly fractured and vulnerable to collapse”.

The 19.5km highway will link Gurney Drive in the northeast of the island via the hills of Air Itam, Paya Terubong and Sungai Ara before ending close to the second bridge in the south.

The Penang government has sought to allay fears, saying the project remains a proposal and will only proceed after the DoE gives the green light.

The project delivery partner of the project, SRS Consortium, says the drill and blast method is safe and has been successfully implemented in other places in Malaysia.