Malaysia: Penang studying plan to build cable car across Middle Bank

ARNOLD LOH The Star 29 Jan 16;

GEORGE TOWN: A major realignment to the island-mainland cable car plan – Penang Sky Cab – could see passengers travelling 90m directly over Middle Bank.

This change will also see the cable car station built as part of the future development of Jelutong landfill.

A source revealed that the cables could stretch from Penang Sentral, where the ferry terminal is on the mainland, to the future development of Jelutong landfill.

It will cut across Middle Bank and be about 5km long instead of the previous 3.6km.

“At low tide and with a pair of binoculars, passengers might clearly see the large sea anemones and crabs that live on this 50ha carpet of green grass,” the source said.

He said an environmental impact assessment (EIA) would begin on the project soon.

Change on the horizon: The planned cable car station is part of the future development of Jelutong landfill (foreground) and it will be along Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway near the landfill’s entrance (circled) next to a petrol station. This aerial photo was taken 175m above sea level with a drone camera.

The planned cable car station, the source said, will be by the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway near the entrance to the landfill.

Previously, the cable car station on the island side was to be at Nordin Street Ghaut, but he said consultants had calculated that the area’s roads might not cope with the potential swell of traffic.

The 21.44ha landfill is 21 years old and would be rehabilitated.

But while the tourism value of Penang Sky Cab could go up a notch with this plan, the source is worried about Middle Bank.

“The cable pylons are 50m apart and the towers are 500m from each other. Middle Bank is 1km from the island, so how close will the pylons be to the seagrass bed?”

He said although the structures would have a small footprint, the construction would still kick up tonnes of seabed sediment that could hurt the seagrass.

He said there was an optional plan to turn one of the towers into a restaurant and observatory.

“If they choose to build one for passengers to stop and look at Middle Bank at low tide, the construction might be major enough to affect the seagrass environment.”

When contacted, a senior state government official who declined to be identified confirmed that the plan was being studied.

“There shouldn’t be any pylons or towers built on or near the bed. This change is not to capitalise on the seagrass but to manage the traffic and wind channelling effects on the cable cars as they cross the sea,” the official said.

Seeing red over dying greens
ARNOLD LOH The Star 29 Jan 16;

BEING too close to the ground can make it hard for people to see the forest for the trees. But step back 500m above sea level, and the situation can become clearer.

A drone camera pilot who is compiling a book filled with aerial photographs of Penang was disheartened when he sent his drone camera 2km out to sea to capture images of Middle Bank.

“It is not as green as previous photographs. If you are walking on the seagrass bed, things might look fine. But seen from the sky, the grass looks like it’s thinning.

“There is much more sand than grass in the pictures,” said Warren Tan from Se Vena Networks Sdn Bhd, who launched his drone camera from Karpal Singh Drive yesterday at 10am when the tide was lowest.

Based on his images, he said the thinning pattern seemed more pronounced near the Sungai Pinang river mouth and pointed to the possibility that human pollution flowing out was hurting the seagrass.

Tan gave The Star his photographs and video footages, taken at heights of between 2m and 500m above sea level, and hoped environmentalists would be able to use the images to identify the problem.

Penangites had a scare last year because there was talk that this area would be reclaimed, though the plans are shelved for now.

Environmentalist and Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu brought several reporters by boat to the spot in April 2015 to document the abundant marine life living there.

But more challenges for this second largest seagrass bed in peninsular Malaysia may be on the way.

A source has revealed that Penang Sky Cab, the proposed island-mainland cable car ride, may cut across Middle Bank.

While the gondolas coasting overhead will not harm the seagrass, the construction of pylons and cable towers are another matter.

“Imagine hovering above at 90m during low tide. With binoculars, you might be able to spot the large sea anemones and crabs living on it.

“But if the pylons are built too close, the construction might cause pollution till the seagrass bed disappears,” the source said.

Middle Bank is about the same age as Penang Bridge — 31 years old.

It was created with undersea material dredged during the bridge’s construction in 1985.

The grass is obviously much thinner compared to its condition in April last year.

The bank is visible from the shore for about four to six hours a day when the tide is lowest.

At high tide, it is between 1m and 2m underwater.

Sunlight can still penetrate this depth and thus create an ideal environment for a seagrass bed to form and support a wealth of marine life.

Even dugongs were reported to feed on the seagrass.

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