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Malaccans push for federal action to stop major reclamation job

Free Malaysia Today logo Free Malaysia Today 4/5/2021 Nicholas Chung
map: The map of the proposed M-WEZ project. (Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone pic) © Provided by Free Malaysia Today The map of the proposed M-WEZ project. (Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone pic)

PETALING JAYA: Residents in Tanjung Kling, Melaka, are seeking federal government intervention to prevent a major reclamation project from proceeding on their shores.

The land reclamation is part of the state government’s Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone project to be built on 6,070ha of reclaimed land and running 22km from Umbai to Tanjung Bruas.

The state government signed a deal with LBS Bina Group Bhd in April for the reclamation and development of some 1,200 acres (485ha) in Tanjung Bruas. The group signed the agreement through its subsidiary Leaptec Engineering Sdn Bhd.

The deal is said to be part of the first phase of the M-WEZ project, but residents in the area have moved to oppose the project over concerns of its potential impact on the environment and community.

An online petition has even been launched by a “Melaka coastline protection committee” in opposition to the project, garnering more than 20,000 signatures as of now.

Tan Loon Kah, a resident working with NGOs and other groups to halt the reclamation, questioned the viability of the project and how it would impact the surrounding areas.

He told FMT that reclamations for Melaka Raya in the past led to constant flooding of Kota Laksamana and Jonker Street when it rained. He feared that such flooding would also happen with this project.

Loss of the last public beach

“The Pantai Puteri beach is the last beach for Malaccans. Many families go there on the weekends and, for fishermen, it’s one of the busiest fish markets in Melaka.

“We’ve lost the Tengkera, Klebang Kecil and Klebang Besar beaches, now are we going to lose this one too?” asked the 40-year-old.

He added that fishermen would be among the hardest hit as they would lose their source of income, although half of them were unaware of the project. “Usually, they find out about it late. When the engineering process starts, only then they protest.”

In the past, he said, the Pakatan Harapan state government had given an assurance that no further reclamations would be done in Melaka, although ongoing projects could not be stopped for legal reasons.

He said residents had raised their concerns to former chief minister Adly Zahari, who understood their views and promised to limit reclamations in the future. However, that seemed to have changed with the latest government.

Ahmad Syafiq Afifi, another resident, was concerned over the impact on the ecosystem at the seaside, adding that animals were not as adaptable to environmental changes as humans.

“Humans can go from the village to the city, experience culture shock for one or two weeks, and be okay by the next month. But animals aren’t like that.

“You can build new hotels, but you can’t build a new environment. Different creatures live at different depths. If you touch the oxygen level, pH levels, organic matter level, it will change things for them,” he told FMT.

The 31-year-old who studied geology in university added that the state government should look towards building inland rather than seaward through reclamations. “Melaka is currently a historical city, but it seems like they really want to make everything history,” he quipped.

What will fishermen do now?

Nor Azman Hassan, the Pantai Kundor assemblyman in Tanjung Kling, said he was against the project but had conceded that he could not do much to stop the state government from going ahead.

He told FMT that his biggest concern was the livelihood of the fishermen there, as the project would force them to make a living elsewhere while also potentially affecting their catch there.

“We definitely don’t agree with this project. Reclamation work will disturb the coastlands, cause sand erosion and bays to form. The trees could even fall because of the erosion.

“To help fishermen, we have a proposal to construct tourist ‘kelongs’ (platforms built on stilts at sea) which they can operate. There can be chalets, restaurants and they can catch krill and rear fish there,” he said.

FMT was informed by the Malaysian Nature Society’s (MNS) Melaka chapter that the committee tasked with reviewing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report would be meeting on May 7.

Its chairman Vuthy Taing said MNS Melaka was part of the committee headed by the environment department (DoE). Should the EIA obtain the committee’s approval, the report will be released for public feedback.

“At the moment we can’t say anything. On the technical side, we will give feedback in terms of wildlife and environmental issues, but we’re just one of the voices there. From there, the DoE will evaluate our comments, then make a decision.”

Meanwhile, LBS Bina said M-WEZ was part of the Melaka State Structure Plan 2035, adding that the relevant studies and a public hearing process had already been done before it was gazetted.

“Hence, all concerns should have already been raised and addressed during the public hearing stage, before the launch of the M-WEZ master plan,” it told FMT.

It maintained that it will fulfil all regulatory requirements such as the EIA and social impact assessment reports, while expecting the project to create more quality jobs for the local community.

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