Ongoing work: A general view of the road project linking Kampung Sungai Pinang to Kampung Pulau Betong.
It’s is unnecessary and the money is better spent elsewhere, says locals
BALIK PULAU: The government’s move to build a RM53mil road linking Kampung Sungai Pinang in the north to Kampung Pulau Betong on the south-western end of the island has got local folks fuming.
Fisherman Wan Mohizan Wan Hussein is one such person. The 52-year-old said the project would threaten Balik Pulau’s image of being “one with nature”.
“It would be better to spend the money on flood mitigation in the area,” he suggested.
“If it rains for two hours straight, there will definitely be flooding. That’s something that should be addressed,” he said.
Wan Mohizan said furthermore, the new road would be built along an existing narrow dirt trail and he felt that prices of land in the vicinity would increase.
“What if developers start coming here and offer to buy Balik Pulau farmland for development? Can we stop them?
“This side of the island is flat and easy to develop. The road can change Balik Pulau,” he said.
Balik Pulau is the “last hinterland” of Penang island, a flat farmland of about 1,000ha with narrow dirt trails.
For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, this land on the island’s rustic eastern side will get a two-way tarred 10.2km road stretching almost the entire north-south length.
But the road construction has left many wondering why this road was being built through mangrove swamps, padi fields, shrimp ponds and oil palm estates.
Another fisherman, Mazlan Sahib, 48, said the new road was unnecessary and it would only welcome over-development.
“There are hardly any residents living there so it doesn’t make sense to have it at all.
“The project might also be a threat to the mangrove swamps along the coast,” he added.
Balik Pulau’s Simpang Empat resident Zainudin Ahad wondered why the government planned to build a new road when the existing Jalan Baru that ran parallel to the new road about 3km away never experienced traffic congestion.
“I thought we need new roads only when existing roads are congested.
“The only traffic jam we get in Balik Pulau is in the town itself.
“There is never any traffic jam in the kampung area, so why give us a new road?” Zainudin questioned.
Kuala Sungai Burung Fishermen’s Association committee member Abd Malik Man, 55, said there was talk about the road project since the Barisan Nasional government.
“We thought that the project would be shelved. I didn’t think the new government would go ahead with it,” he said.
Abd Malik said many residents in the area around the new road were living or farming on government land and their leases might be over soon.
“The government has all the right to develop the land but the long-term impact should be taken into consideration,” he cautioned.
Even Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakthiar Wan Chik was dumbfounded by the new road.
He urged the Rural Development Ministry to look into more pressing areas that need the funds, beginning with flood mitigation, a new hospital and traffic snarls in the heart of Balik Pulau town.
“The new road is not top priority and does not serve much purpose,” he pointed out.
“I hope the ministry will practise stakeholder consultation with the locals and hold town hall meetings to see what the residents want.
“Neither the locals nor me knew that the road project was approved and the construction had begun,” he said.
He also appealed to the ministry to foster entrepreneurial projects for Balik Pulau’s numerous cottage industry products including bedak sejuk (cooling powder, a traditional facial treatment product), nutmeg, otak udang (prawn paste) and salted eggs.
By arnold loh and intan amalina mohd ali The Star
Parts of controversial road run along mangrove swamps
BALIK PULAU: The state government had tried to stall plans for a new road in Balik Pulau’s coastal farmland by insisting on an application for planning permission.
State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said he had asked for realignment proposals of the road because stretches of this new road will run along the edge of the mangrove swamps.
“When the 2004 tsunami hit us, the mangrove swamp saved Balik Pulau from the worst effect.
“We also agree that the swamps are vital breeding grounds for the jumbo prawns that our inshore fisherman can catch when they are in season.
“So we want the road to be away from the swamps,” he said.
State Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the requirement for an environmental assessment (EIA) impact report was initially done away with because the proposed road was to run along the existing dirt trail and the footprint was therefore too small to need an EIA.
“If there is proof that a tarred road through the western coastline of the island will impact the environment, we will not hesitate to require an EIA,” he said.
When told of the sentiments of the locals, a senior officer in the Rural Development Ministry declared that the ministry would immediately conduct a stakeholder consultation on the road construction.
“We renegotiated the road project because it was first proposed in 2016 and we did not want any more delays.
“But since there are signs that locals find the road unnecessary, we will go to the ground at once and find out what the Balik Pulau community wants,” the spokesman assured.
It is understood that the budget for the road comes from the 10th Malaysia Plan in 2015 and the state was willing to surrender 11.5ha of land along the route without asking for the premium, which came up to RM18mil, for the 10.2km two-way street.
Things changed after the general election when the Rural Development Ministry renegotiated with contractors and brought the price down to RM53mil from the initial ceiling budget that was over RM78mil.
As is permissible for government projects, the state government subsequently waived the need for planning permission and state approval was given late last month.
Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun visited the newly begun road construction last month.
Meanwhile, cycling enthusiasts were disappointed that the new road would be built over a dirt trail that made up the Balik Pulau Eco Bike Trail.
“This is a popular route for cyclists to enjoy some light off-road mountain biking across Balik Pulau’s rustic farmland,” one cyclist said.
A netizen, Adrian Chan, also wrote on Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik’s Facebook page: “We already have Jalan Baru (a two-way street serving villages in Balik Pulau). Just upgrade or widen it.
“We should keep the cycling trail. That is the only (rural) asset in Penang island.
“Batu Maung, Bayan Lepas all gone with the concrete like Queens Bay.
“Visitors from overseas really admire that we have a cycling trail with the nature view.”
Balik Pulau residents riled after finding out about latest development
BALIK PULAU: While residents in Balik Pulau are unhappy with a new road being built, it has been revealed that there’s actually a proposal to set up a new township on this last hinterland of the island.
A developer from Kuala Lumpur has promised farmers a payout of at least RM120mil to turn a strip of rural land on western Penang island into a township with nearly 600 houses, four blocks of high-rise buildings and two blocks of shoplots on top of community amenities.
It wants to develop 36ha of oil palm estates along which will soon be a new road for which the Rural Development Ministry is spending RM53mil to build.
When the road project was announced by the federal government last mid-December, many Balik Pulau residents were left wondering why the 10.2km road was needed along 1,000ha of oil palm land, shrimp ponds and mangroves, with hardly anyone living there.
Even the state government is left dumbfounded and completely unaware of plans to develop this countryside.
“This is something new to me. I don’t remember ever seeing a proposal to develop that area or to convert the land use.
“We have got to find out what is being planned. Is the ministry building that road for the developer?
“At first, we were unhappy that the road is being built right beside the mangrove swamp and we wanted another alignment away from it.
“And now we find out a developer has plans to build a township there.
“We will find out what is going on,” state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh told The Star, stressing that the road was a federal project and the state was kept in the loop about it on a “for-your-info” basis.
In a filing to Bursa Malaysia on Jan 30, the public-listed developer announced that it has entered into a joint-venture development agreement with Koperasi Kampung Melayu Balik Pulau Berhad to build 276 terraced houses, 214 semi-detached houses, 91 double-storey bungalows, two 16-storey blocks of condominiums, two 16-storey blocks of low-cost flats, two blocks of retail shoplots, a school, mosque, community hall and other public amenities on land which the co-op owns.
The 36ha is specified as being on Lots 254, 804 and 803 of the area.
A check with the Malaysia Co-operative Societies Commission database shows that the co-op exists though no other information on its members are available.
The developer guarantees in writing that the co-op will earn RM120mil, out of which RM45mil will be in cash payouts and the remaining will be given in the form of units built on the land.
It will be an 80-20 joint venture between the developer and the co-op, respectively.
The developer informed Bursa Malaysia that the gross development value of the joint venture deal is RM600mil.
In its Bursa Malaysia filing, the developer specified that the deal is conditional upon the successful extension of the land lease to 99 years, re-zoning of the land use category, and approval of all relevant building plans. The current status of the land is unclear.
For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, the island’s rustic western coastline will get a two-way tarred road stretching almost the entire north-south length, from Bagan Sungai Pinang to Pulau Betong.
The road was first proposed by the federal government in 2016 and initially, the state Town and Country Planning Department requested the Public Works Department to apply for planning permission from Penang Island City Council.
The initial budget for the project was RM78mil and after the general election, the new government renegotiated with contractors and brought the price down to RM53mil.
Earlier, state Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said that the state waived the planning permission requirement after being convinced that the footprint of the road, which will be built along an existing dirt trail that villagers have used for decades, would be small.
The road construction began in December.
‘Risky to build on ex-mangrove swamps land
BALIK PULAU: A mangrove ecologist has warned of the risk of development encroaching into mangrove swamps, and the risks are for people and buildings.
Dr Foong Swee Yeok predicted that the road or planned property development on the eastern coastline of Penang island would not endanger the swamp or wildlife.
But she said the future road and buildings might suffer because the land on Balik Pulau’s coastline is all ex-mangrove swamp land, and there could be as deep as 25m of mud and clay down below.
“Developers will know how to pile deeply until they reach the bedrock for high rises, but there is no piling requirement for two-storey homes.
“You see nothing wrong in the first 10 years or so, but after that, things start sinking.
“Roads become wavy, uneven and start breaking apart,” she warned.
Dr Foong, who has been studying mangrove swamps since 1996, explained that the thick column of peat, mud and clay below the swamp is high in organic matter and once disturbed, it is prone to shifting over a long period after development.
“Waterlogged and anaerobic peat in the swamp becomes aerobic when drained. Then you get biological oxidation or mineralisation of the organic deposits. That is why the soil will sink,” she pointed out.
She said in developed ex-mangrove swamps on the island, such as parts of Bayan Lepas and Batu Maung, there have been numerous instances of buildings sinking and cracking after a few decades and this was due to the slow shifting of the mud and clay below.
Dr Foong also urged authorities to look into the operations of over 40 shrimp or fish dugout ponds fronting the land which a developer from Kuala Lumpur plans to build 276 terraced houses, 214 semi-detached houses, 91 double-storey bungalows, two 16-storey blocks of condominiums, two 16-storey blocks of low-cost flats, two blocks of retail shoplots, a school, mosque, community hall and other public amenities.
She said the tens of tonnes of shrimp and fish reared in the ponds produced vast amounts of nitrate and ammonia pollution.- The Star