PIL 1, the straw to break Penang’s back?

When Yeo Bee Yin, the minister in charge of the environment, praised the Penang government for making the state the first to eliminate plastic straws during a town hall meeting on the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) on Sept 20, 2018, civil society cringed.

Why ban plastic straws when they are pushing for a monstrous six-lane highway which is three storeys tall and 72ft wide and which will plough through the spine of the island?

It will plough through all three fault line zones of the island located in the sensitive Penang Hill and Paya Terubong hills, according to the environmental impact assessment (EIA).

If the above is not bad enough, 5,000 tonnes of explosives will be used in a blast and drill methodology to create 10km of tunnel for this monster highway, proceeding at 2m a day.

PIL 1 will run for 19.5km from Gurney Drive to a point near the second bridge and take seven years to complete, if there are no complications.

This is supposed to allow Penangites to make the long drive in 15 minutes. It would indeed be wonderful if not for the fact that its EIA also declares that this highway will reach saturation by 2030. So, if this highway is launched next year and is somehow completed by 2027, we will enjoy this 15-minute journey for no more than three years.

At last mention, the price bandied for PIL 1 was RM9.6 billion, which works out to RM492 million per km, making PIL 1 the most expensive highway in Malaysia. If it is indeed launched next year, the price only needs to increase by another RM150 million for it to cost RM500 million per km. For every 2m you travel on this highway, RM1 million would have been expended.

There is more. PIL 1 will run through a fault line zone when it is 350m from the base of the Air Itam Dam at its nearest point, and even nearer to Kek Lok Si Temple. All that blasting and drilling through this area for weeks on end.

The EIA declares that the impact of tunnelling will be “medium to high” and that “the construction of tunnels may cause a deformation of the soils that may trigger a collapse and subsidence. Areas that intersect with fault zones are highly fractured and vulnerable to collapse. This can damage both the work under construction and existing nearby structures such as condominiums, the Kek Lok Si Temple, the Air Itam Dam and the Bukit Bendera Complex”.

During the town hall meeting, soil scientist Kam Suan Pheng of Penang Forum highlighted various other flaws in the EIA.

Imagine a huge straw through the spine of the island… yes, it really sounds like the proverbial straw that will break the camel’s back. One does not have to be a seismologist to know that once the fault lines are disturbed, the earth plates may not shift immediately. It could be five years down the line, 10 years or perhaps later. Nobody really knows.

Do bear in mind that the Air Itam Dam can hold up to 2.6 million tonnes of water. Since the dam is 700ft above sea level, any breach to the dam will see water coming downhill like a tsunami. There would be apocalyptic consequences on the 250,000 people in the Air Itam Valley and even the 200,000 living in George Town might be affected.

Is not the Bukit Kukus Highway a fifth means of access to Bayan Lepas? Why do we need PIL 1 then? The state government did admit that PIL 1 is meant to service the three islands to be reclaimed off the southern coast of the island.

If MBPP can’t even properly supervise the construction on its own portion of the Bukit Kukus Highway, will it be able to oversee this huge straw being plunged into our hills?
Would you like a straw in your spine? God help us.

Eric Cheah is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.