Penang CM says will not cancel controversial three-island reclamation project

A map showing the fish landings off the southern coast of Penang island. ― Graphic courtesy of the Penang Chief Minister's office
A map showing the fish landings off the southern coast of Penang island. ― Graphic courtesy of the Penang Chief Minister's office

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GEORGE TOWN, June 9 — Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has said that the state does not plan to cancel its planned Penang South Islands (PSI) project to create three islands off the southern coast of Penang island.

Responding to various calls from several quarters including ministers and PKR leaders for the project to be cancelled, the Penang lawmaker said the state can still build PSI and preserve the environment and the people at the same time through technological advancements.

He said the detractors have repeated their concerns on many platforms about the environmental and fishermen issues.

“We have been listening and, in fact, we agree with them on the importance of taking climate change into consideration and protecting the welfare of fishermen,” he said.

He said the state does not have to choose between PSI, the environment and fishermen.

“We never denied that the project will have an impact but we have always shared with the people how we intend to mitigate the impact, create new habitats for marine life, and provide more job and business opportunities for fishermen and other locals,” he said in a statement today.

He said the state is implementing many mitigation measures such as carrying out a socioeconomic plan for fishermen, and introducing green initiatives for the PSI development. 

“Suffice to say that such a massive and comprehensive plan to improve the fishing community has never been done before anywhere in the country,” he stressed.

He said the state has been engaging with the local fishing community for more than five years through the fishermen's one-stop centres called Pusat Perkhidmatan Setempat Nelayan (PPSN) in Permatang Damar Laut and Gertak Sanggul.

He said a total of 6,153 fishermen have been involved in stakeholder engagements since PSI was mooted in 2015.

He said traditional fishermen, or coastal fishermen, normally operate within Zone A which is less than eight nautical miles from the shore.

“Of the fish landings recorded in Southern Penang, Zone A contributes approximately 10 per cent,” he said.

He said the balance 90 per cent comes from the larger trawlers who operate in deeper waters.

He said the fish landing fishermen units around the PSI area only contributed about 4 per cent of Penang’s total fish production in 2015 based on data from the Fisheries Department.

“The fisheries impact assessment report noted that a surplus of fish production in Penang is at about 12,000 tonnes,” he said.

He said this meant PSI’s implementation is unlikely to cause food insecurity.

Chow said there is a Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP) that offers affected fishermen ex-gratia payments; aid in form of boats and engines; and four new fishermen jetties in Permatang Tepi Laut, Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar and Gertak Sanggul.

“The SIMP also includes business and job opportunities; training, free tuition, scholarship, and education opportunities for young fishermen and fishermen children; housing initiatives; and others,” he said.

To date, about 530 fishermen from the nine fishermen units have registered for the SIMP, he added.

He said only over 900 fishermen are closest to the earmarked site, according to the Fisheries Department's record.

“The numbers of affected fishermen are not as inflated as what detractors have claimed, as they have included those from other parts of Penang and other states as well,” he said.

He stressed that fishing activities will continue as a 250m wide unimpeded passage will be provided for the fishermen throughout the reclamation and development phases of PSI.

He also said the fishing area is much larger than the 4,500 acres that is being reclaimed for PSI so the fishermen will not lose their livelihoods.

As for concerns on the environment, Chow said the state is obligated to carry out offset programmes to manage the impact on fisheries resources and fishermen, as stated in the Department of Environment's (DoE) environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval letter.

“The Offset Programme is to include artificial reefs, Fishery Aggregating Device (FAD), mangrove planting, release of fish fry, building eco-engineering structures, funding for studies and researches, and other programmes as recommended in the EIA report,” he said.

He said the state plans to deploy artificial reefs and plant mangroves to kickstart the Offset Programme.

He also said 20 per cent of the PSI land will be reserved for green parks, mangroves, water canals, wetlands, floodplains and bioswales to enhance biodiversity.

“PSI’s environmental offset programmes have also included four kilometres of mangrove wetlands to provide additional shoreline protection and promote biodiversity,” he said.

He said education campuses will be set up on the islands and over 5,000 units of affordable homes will be built near canal waterways, public parks, schools, community sports centres and other public amenities.

“A 100 per cent renewable energy-powered Green Tech Park will be created to appeal to global electrical and electronic (E&E) companies and is designed to achieve 50 per cent carbon reduction by 2030,” he said.

He said the PSI will bring socioeconomic benefits that could create jobs and stimulate the state's economy through domestic and international investments.

He said green initiatives introduced in PSI such as low carbon developments and transportation, use of renewable energy, and provision of open spaces will contribute towards improving liveability and public wellbeing for decades to come.

“We strongly believe we are able to achieve all the above while also being fully compliant to the stringent approval conditions imposed by DoE,” he said.

He said the federal government should not set a precedent to reverse its approval for the project especially when all approval conditions have been met.

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