Sarawak Energy denies Baleh dam works behind river logjam

The floating debris along a stretch of Baleh river as seen from the air, August 23, 2021. —  Picture courtesy of Sarawak Energy Berhad
The floating debris along a stretch of Baleh river as seen from the air, August 23, 2021. — Picture courtesy of Sarawak Energy Berhad

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KUCHING, Aug 23 — Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) has rejected claims that the logjam and floating debris along the stretch of Baleh river in Kapit Division were caused by site clearing works from the Baleh dam.

It said its onsite team has conducted land, river and aerial drone surveillance following reports of the mass accumulation of timber and other natural debris in the river, to verify the source of the floating debris.

“From the initial assessment, it has been concluded that the source of the debris is more than 1.5km upstream of the diversion tunnels inlet portal,” SEB said in a statement when disputing claims by Sarawak Forest director Datuk Hamden Mohammad in a Malay daily today.

It added that the last site clearing works was in 2018 during project commencement and that was downstream from the diversion tunnels.

“The activity was completed in April 2019 where the associated logs and debris were properly disposed off in accordance with the approved Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) guidelines and under their supervision.

“The origin of the logjam and debris is upstream of the project site and is clearly not from the site clearing works.

“This is because biomass clearing activities upstream of the dam to prepare for impoundment is only expected to start in 2023 which is in two years’ time.

“These biomass clearing activities will be under a structured waste management programme under the supervision of the NREB in compliance with the requirements of the Baleh HEP Social Environment Impact Assessment (SEIA) report approved in 2015,” it said.

It said it understands that timber logging continues to be active at upstream tributaries of Baleh river.

SEB also said it was deeply concerned about the impact of the logjams on the safety of the construction of Baleh HEP.

“If the situation continues, there will be a significant risk to the project’s construction as well as the safety of downstream communities,” it said, adding that its team has already started trial clearing works to determine the safest and most efficient method to clear the floating timber debris obstructing the water flow into the inlet portal of the diversion tunnels.

Yesterday, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri James Masing, who is also Baleh state assemblyman, blamed licensed timber companies operating in the headwaters of Baleh River for logjam and floating tree trunks and branches.

He also called on the state government not to renew the licences of these companies for their irresponsible devastating environmental activities.

Hamden, in a report carried by a Malay paper today, had claimed that floating debris that caused the massive logjam along Baleh river originated from the site clearing works of the Baleh dam.

The 1,285MW Baleh dam is scheduled for completion in 2026.

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