Penang sea project raises worries over environment

Straits Times 14 Sep 13;

GEORGE TOWN - Eight years ago, soon after a massive reclamation was completed along the Tanjung Tokong seafront, people in Penang began to notice tidal changes and ugly mudflats at the Gurney Drive shoreline.

The real cause of that damage is still not known.

But fresh fears of environmental damage have arisen following the recent announcement of new development plans by property developer Eastern and Oriental (E&O).

According to these plans, Penang - now a turtle-shaped island - will have its shape altered when E&O starts on the second phase of the Seri Tanjung Pinang development. The project includes a new kidney-shaped, 307ha island in front of the Straits Quay retail marina, built in the first phase.

Reclamation works at Gurney Drive will push the island's coast out by 80m to 100m, the New Straits Times said in a recent report.

There are fears that the marine environment will be made worse by this new reclamation, which at an estimated cost of RM25 billion (S$9.6 billion) will quite possibly be the biggest single development project to massively affect the lives of Penang residents, some commentators say.

At a recent public dialogue, the project's proponents maintained that the waterway between the first and second phase of the project, called the "flushing channel", would have a high enough velocity of water to help keep the channel open, while reducing sedimentation and erosion.

But some residents remain jittery, according to news website

Ecologist Leong Yueh Kwong, a former director of the Penang Institute and chairman of its Centre for Habitat and Environment, summed up the public's concerns when he said that the environmental impact assessment for the first phase had stated that there would be no adverse environmental impact that could not be mitigated against.

"And we all know the consequences of the first phase of the development, which is sedimentation and siltation of the whole of Gurney Drive and other areas," he said.

He pointed out that the second phase of the project was not only twice the size of the first, but also located out at sea.

There are also concerns about the destruction of biodiversity.

An estimated 2.2 million cubic metres of materials would be dredged from the sea, affecting marine habitats.

It is estimated that the seabed life would take three years to recover, the New Straits Times report said.