GEORGE TOWN: An environmental researcher has questioned the unusually speedy approval of the proposed Penang South Reclamation or three islands project, given the complexity of the project.
Evelyn Teh, an independent senior researcher in environmental and urban studies, said it took the Environment Department (DoE) a total of two working days to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project.
“DoE received it on a Friday. And the following Tuesday, the approval was given. The timeline for the EIA appears to be very compressed. “In just two working days, the document (EIA) was passed. Is our civil service this fast? This is very efficient,” she said at a dialogue on “Reclamation: A ticking time bomb”, hosted by the Penang Forum.
The event held at the Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics in Gelugor, was attended by about 200 people, mostly comprising concerned fishermen.
Teh said the DoE had rejected the first EIA in May 2018 due to concerns over fisheries. She said this was rightly so, as there are plankton and annelids (schooling fishes) in the waters off the southern coast.
The second EIA was sent to the department with a Fisheries Impact Assessment on June 19. It was approved on June 25.
Teh said prior to the second submission, an EIA Technical Review Committee had met while the public review was still ongoing on May 29. The last day for the public review was June 12, and the review committee should have convened after the public review had ended.
In July, the PSR project delivery partner, SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd, had said the first EIA was rejected because fisheries and social impact assessments had not been required when the EIA was submitted in 2017, and were made a requirement mid-way. On the matter of quick approval, he had said “we have been working with (DoE), point by point, up to the final submission”.
Penang Island-size area to be mined for sand off the waters of Perak
Teh also gave a picture of how the three islands project would proceed. Based on the data provided in the EIA report, it would take about 55 years to have all three islands developed – 15 years to reclaim the islands and an average of 7-8 years to reclaim each island, she said.
The three proposed islands are to be built off the south coast and will cover an area of 1,819 hectares (about 4,500 acres). She said the first to be built would be island B, the second largest island (566ha), off Teluk Kumbar; followed by island A (930ha) below the airport runway off Permatang Damar Laut; and island C (323ha) near Gertak Sanggul.
The three islands in total measure 17.8km in length, with varying widths, and are separated from the south coast by a 40m channel, she said.
She said the project called for sand to be mined for the reclamation from the waters off Perak, from Tanjung Piandang to Kuala Sepetang (Port Weld). “In one mining section, an area is as large as the size of Penang Island would be mined,” she said, and a total of 189 million cubic metres of sand would be recovered.
Quarries near Nibong Tebal would transport rocks via barges via the Kerian River to the reclamation area and would affect aquaculture farms near Batu Kawan.
(SRS has said that sand mining would take place 15 nautical miles offshore and would not affect coastal fishing and have minimal effect on trawler fishing.
Fishermen to hold hartal on Nov 4
Penang Fishermen’s Association chairman Nazri Ahmad said some 5,000 fishermen in Penang would hold a hartal (general strike) on Nov 4 by refusing to go out to fish. He said the fishermen would gather at Padang Kota that day to voice their opposition to the three-islands project.
Nazri said the fishermen were merely concerned about the environment and their livelihood, as it was common sense that the marine ecosystem would be affected once reclamation works were carried out.
“We are not scientists or thinkers, but we know when you disturb the waters, things get ugly. And they (the government) say they have engaged stakeholders. We feel they are only concerned over what the developers and businessmen have to say,” he said.
Nazri was responding to a declaration in the EIA report that nearly all fishermen objected to the PSR, while local businesses were in favour of the project.
The reclaimed land will belong to the state government but will be auctioned to the highest bidder to finance the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan, which calls for a series of highways, light rail transit and other modes of transport to be built over the next 20 to 30 years.
SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd is a joint venture between Gamuda Bhd and Penang real estate development firms Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd. Gamuda had previously claimed that the three-island project would one day rival Singapore’s Marina Bay.