GEORGE TOWN: An environmental group has voiced outrage over news that a highway project tunnelling through the hill ranges of Penang island is likely to continue despite its warnings and objections over the matter.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia said the Department of Environment (DoE) had approved the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) despite proof that the project is not justifiable.
Its president SM Mohamed Idris said the group was “in shock” over the state government’s announcement that the DoE had given the green light for the 19.5km highway, albeit with 56 conditions.
“How could the DoE approve this project? We provided detailed feedback on many points raised in the Environmental Impact Assessment, including compelling reasons why it is not justifiable at all,” he said when contacted.
He reiterated issues such as the risk of tunnelling through a sensitive hill range, the impact it would have on public health, and how it would affect communities along the planned route.
“These issues are very serious. We call for all 56 conditions to be made public. It should not be a secret as there has been a massive outcry on the issue before,” he added.
He was referring to warnings by soil scientist Kam Suan Pheng that the PIL 1 alignment through the hills would go through three “water-seeped” fault lines, which could cause the hills to collapse.
This was refuted by proponents of the project, who said the engineering methods used would ensure the safety of the tunnels.
Tanjung Bunga Residents’ Association chairman Meenakshi Raman slammed the chief minister’s claim that PIL 1 would resolve traffic issues in the state, calling it “short-sighted, at best”.
She said it is more important to consider the highway’s alignment, which she claimed would “drastically affect” the island’s landscape, cutting across many mature neighbourhoods as well as a public park.
“It looks like the Penang government is bent on making Penang look like Bangkok, destroying Penang’s unique charm,” she said, referring to traffic problems in Thailand’s capital.
She, too, urged the DoE to reveal the 56 conditions in the interest of the public. She said these should be studied by environmental groups before any further progress is made.
The six-lane PIL 1 highway consists of 7.6km of elevated roads and 10.1km of roads tunnelled through the Penang Hill range to connect Gurney Drive in the northeast to the airport in the southeast.
It will allow motorists to arrive at the airport from Gurney Drive in 15 minutes.
The RM7.5 billion highway had been widely panned by environmentalists who said it could destroy the island’s sensitive ecosystem.