CM admits drawing errors in Penang highway EIA

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow pointing at the PIL1 highway alignment on a map of Penang during a press conference on Monday.

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government today admitted there were a few drawing errors in the environment study done on the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) highway, where the terracing of hill slopes appears to be more than what is permitted under the law.

This admission came after Penang Forum’s Khoo Salma Nasution questioned the existence of 29 “berms” at one section of the highway drawings, as seen in the recently-approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project.

The maximum number of berms allowed by the Public Works Department (PWD) at each “cut slope” is six.

A berm is defined as a narrow shelf, path or ledge typically at the top or bottom of a slope.

During construction of highways, these berms help to control erosion and sedimentation, especially on cut hills. The PIL1 will be built mostly on hillsides.

At a press conference today, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said having 29 berms at one section was “impossible” in engineering terms and said the error was likely due to faulty computer-aided drawings.

He said this was only a “preliminary drawing and design” sent to the Department of Environment (DoE).

Chow said after an EIA is approved by the DoE, the project’s contractors would come out with a detailed design of the highway, where the final route alignment, design and other features would be drawn out.

“This could be an oversight by the submitting person (in charge of the EIA).

“We will abide by PWD requirements for a maximum of six berms on every slope,” he said.

A section of the PIL1’s EIA showing more ‘berms’ on cut slopes than permitted by the Public Works Department.

Yesterday, besides pointing out that one section of PIL 1 EIA showed 29 berms, Khoo said five other sections exceeded the six-berm limit.

Chow had announced that PIL 1 had been conditionally approved with 56 conditions by the DoE.

He touted the approval with these 56 conditions as a big win for the “silent majority” who wanted highways to alleviate the worsening traffic on the island.

However, the news brought an outcry from civil society groups which said highways were not sustainable in the long run as people will resort to using cars instead of relying on public transport.

After pressure from the NGOs, Chow released the 56 technical conditions for their attention.

The six-lane PIL 1 highway consists of 7.6km of elevated roads and 10.1km of roads tunnelled through the Penang Hill range through a “drill and blast” method.

The highway connects 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 journey takes at least 30 minutes currently.

The RM7.5 billion highway had been widely panned by environmentalists who said it could destroy the island’s sensitive ecosystem.

The project will be financed through the auction of three reclaimed islands south of Penang island, the work on which is still awaiting approval.

PIL 1 is part of the larger Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), which envisions a series of highways, light rail transit (LRT) lines and other modes of transport built over the next 20 to 30 years at a cost of RM46 billion.