Developer Allays Fears Over Project at Sungai Pulai Johor

Nisha Sabanayagam, New Straits Times Red Orbit 3 Jun 08

KUALA LUMPUR: The developer of a petrochemical plant and maritime centre at Sungai Pulai estuary has stated that it will not lead to environmental degradation along the Johor coastline.

The developer, Seaport Terminals, said the projects would incorporate strategies to reduce the possibility of damage to the surroundings.

Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) chairman Datuk Mohd Sidik Shaik Osman said the company was complying with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements on toxic waste, including building a centralised industrial waste and sewerage treatment plant.

The RM2 billion petrochemical plant and maritime centre is expected to attract more than RM15 billion of direct foreign investments in Johor.

Mohd Sidik was responding to claims by environmentalists that more than 2,000ha of mangrove forests along Sungai Boh, Sungai Chengkih and Sungai Dinar areas were in danger of destruction due to the construction of the petrochemical plant and maritime centre.

Detractors of the projects had also claimed that a vast seagrass bed housing the largest seahorse population in Malaysia was in danger of being destroyed.

A non-governmental organisation called Save our Seahorses (SOS) had even set up a website opposing the development and listing possible causes of destruction to the environment.

SOS head and University Malaysia Terengganu marine biology lecturer Choo Chee Kuang said massive development around the estuary had destroyed large tracts of seagrass beds, which was home to the Spotted Seahorse or Hippocampus kuda, which faces extinction.

He also claimed that a Ramsar wetlands site adjacent to the proposed site would be affected.

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 is an inter-governmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

While agreeing that about 2,000ha of forest would be destroyed, Mohd Sidik said there were plans to protect as much seagrass beds as possible.

The largest seagrass bed was located off Pulau Merambong, an island outside the Sungai Pulai estuary.

The island will be adopted by the PTP, which will try to have it gazetted it as a marine sanctuary.

As for seagrass beds located upstream of Sungai Pulai, he said that specific mitigation plans, as required under the EIA, would be carried out.

"We will use silt nets along the river to prevent pollution at the upstream area during the development process."

With regard to allegations regarding the Ramsar site, Mohd Sidik said 80 per cent of the planned development area had a natural buffer of about 1.5km.

"Also, only about 20 per cent of the planned area borders the Ramsar site. For this area, we have complied with the EIA requirements for the development of an eco-park, which will also act as a buffer zone."

SOS also claimed that villagers around the development area were worried about the possible effects of the projects on their livelihood.

Tan Khin Thong, a villager from nearby Kampung Simpang Arang and the head of the Orang Asli Seletar Fishermen's Association, said run- off from the plant may affect the water.

As it is, much of the port's development had affected their catch.

"We used to catch a hundred ringgit worth of fish a day, now we are lucky if we can catch RM20 worth," he said.

As an alternative, the villagers go hunting for wild boar so that they can sell the meat, said Tan, adding that the Orang Asli had been fishing in the area since the 1940s.

Seaport Terminals, on the other hand, has pledged that the projects will not lead to adverse effects on the local community or environment.

"When we built the PTP, we also built a new township for the villagers. They were also given a new and modern jetty for their fishing activities."

Those whose land had been affected by the development of the port had been compensated between RM250,000 and RM350,000 pe r acre, Mohd Sidik said.

He added that villagers affected by the projects would also be taken care of.