Tuesday October 2, 2012
Mangrove forest under seige
KUCHING: The Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) Sarawak has begun investigations into what appears to be illegal land clearing in and around the Santubong peninsula.
NREB Controller Peter Sawal told The Star yesterday that a team of investigators were on the way to the site of the alleged land clearing near the Damai Golf and Country Club.
“We are aware and we’ve just started investigations. At the same time, we are checking and verifying with other agencies. We need to verify what could be the possible use of the land that seems to have been cleared,” Peter said.
On Saturday, emails containing photo evidence were sent out to various government departments and reporters.
The photos showing workers and excavators in forest clearing activities were also posted on a Facebook page, aimed at preventing the building of a proposed 6km long cable car system from nearby beaches to Mount Santubong.
However, as at press time, it had not been confirmed if the land clearing was related to the cable car project. The Star tried to contact Sarawak Tourism Ministry but an official statement was not forthcoming.
However, The Star was made to understand that the same complaint that was emailed to reporters had been forwarded to several state ministries. Peter confirmed that NREB had not received or approved any Environmental Impact Assessment reports for the area.
“I am not sure what this is for. We must investigate first. Our men are going (to the site),” Peter said, when asked about the allegations on Facebook. As far as I know, the area is a forest. And as far as I’m concerned, there is no record of newly approved development in our files,” he added.
Asked if the area was state land, Peter merely said: “The photos show sites that are mangrove areas near to the sea.”
Asked for his opinion on how much time it would have taken to clear the amount of land as shown in the photos, Peter replied: “It’s quite hard to say when the people (started to) do it. It could be done in a month, a week, or one or two days. Our men can’t be there all the time.”
For years, there has been a push for development at Mount Santubong. The state government first backed a cable car project in 2007, based on a proposal submitted sometime in 2005.
News articles written around the time said the state government had granted local company Santubong Cable Car Sdn Bhd (SCC) the sole rights to design, build, operate and manage the system for a period of 60 years from the date it started operation.
“The company has a team that includes consultants involved in the Langkawi system and Doppelmayr Seilbahnen, a ropeway technology provider from Austria,” a The Star report on March 11, 2007, stated.
That project, however, never took off.
After that, there was no talk of the cable car project proposal, until the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation’s (SEDC) 40th anniversary celebration dinner last May when Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said in his speech: “I feel that we should, we can have another project in Damai. I’m now looking at the possibility of having a cable car.”
Malaysian Nature Society of Kuching chairman Anthony Sebastian said he was not against development when done in the right way, but he questioned why there were land clearing activities but no EIA records with the NREB.
“There is, for anything, a right way and a wrong way to do it. Is this land clearing a pre-emptive development? You need a plan first, and that plan must be put through scrutiny. Will it be viable? What is the business plan? Where are the details on projected income based on estimated tourists arrival figures?” Sebastian said.
Meanwhile, SEDC chairman Datuk Talib Zulpilip, who is also Assistant Tourism Minister, could not be reached for comments.
The last he spoke publicly on the proposed cable car project was on Sept 10, when he indicated the project had not been approved.
“All I can say is that we’re looking at the proposals,” Talib told reporters then.
“We’re looking at the design, the business model. I can only say that much for the time being. It’s still under study. A project like that is quite sensitive, and safety levels must be (set) very high. We are looking at all these aspects. The business aspects need to be considered properly too.”
Talib added that the project, if given the green light, would be private-sector driven.