What’s going on at Tawau Hill Park?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

“But what happened? Starting last year Sepa received emotional and angry complaints from callers, including a former State department director about huge tracks of forests being cleared.. the visible evidence of that were the truck loads of logs coming out of the area at night,”

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa) has asked the State Forestry Department, Sabah Parks and others concerned what is so secret going on at Tawau Geothermal Power Plant site in Tawau Hill Park, that no one can enter the area.

Sepa president, Wong Tack, said the explanation by State Forestry Director Sam Mannan Sunday that that side of the park is not a designated area for tourists or visitors due to safety concerns is unsatisfactory.

“All we asked the developer to do was be open to the people of Sabah, Datuk Sam, please don’t twist and turn,” he told reporters during a press conference held at State Legislative Assembly building here Monday.

Wong, accompanied by Himpunan Hijau 2.0 Chairman and Bersih 2.0 Vice Chairman (Southern) Thomas Fann, were there to listen to a clarification on the matter which Mannan had promised to give, as was reported on Sunday.

Wong said Mannan may not realise that during the question and answer session at the stakeholders’ forum held in 2011, at the Kimanis ballroom, Kinabalu Hyatt Regency, a member of the floor asked whether development of the geothermal plant would mean cutting up a Class 1 forest of the 27,972 hectares Tawau Hill Park.

“To which a Tawau Green Energy (TGE – project developer) executive confidently answered “no” and went on to assure that the project will involve utilisation of only degraded forests under the Forestry Department,” he said.

Wong said because of that assurance, Sepa went on record to say they supported the project, to loud applause from the TGE staff.

“But what happened? Starting last year Sepa received emotional and angry complaints from callers, including a former State department director about huge tracks of forests being cleared … the visible evidence of that were the truck loads of logs coming out of the area at night,” he said.

“To us this was a breach of promise, a breach of trust, made in front of almost 200 people at the forum, including a dozen journalists…since the complaints escalated over the last few weeks and got more emotional, we decided we must go to do a field check,” charged Wong.

Otherwise, he added, the public would accuse us not doing our job as trusted protestors of the environment.

Wong said there was no excuse for the department director not knowing that they intended to visit the site.

“We emailed him, to which he asked us to contact the land owners – Sabah Parks, which we did but Sabah Parks said the entrance gate is under Forestry and so we went back to Datuk Sam for permission but we got no reply this time,” he said.

“Unable to wait forever for answer, we decided to act last Thursday and at the Forestry entry gate, a TGE manager told us he was under instruction from the Forestry Director not to let us in.

“We remain in the dark as to what is happening inside the Tawau Hill Park area where TGE is active in logging 150ha of pristine forest,” he said.

The site is understood to be the only water catchment which is essential for the water supply to the entire areas around Tawau, Wong said.

“(Yet) as Datuk Sam confirmed TGE, has already felled 1,639 logs – old trees which are the natural water pumps from the water table deep down the hilly volcanic landscape.

“If Sepa supported the project from the outset because of a promise of not touching the forest which they had obviously breached, of course we feel cheated and we now want to know exactly what’s going on,” said Wong.

According to reports published in the loacl newspapers on Sunday, Mannan was quoted as saying that if anyone wants to visit that part of the park they should apply to the Sabah Parks Director and it is up to the parks to decide.

Mannan also said the department would provide access through Andrassy to the development area inside the park if the applicants have been granted permission by the parks to enter.

Wong appealed to Culture, Tourism and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun to tell Sabah Parks to open up the area so that at least Sepa could monitor the activities there.

On the photo taken by Wong which Mannan said was taken outside Andrassy Forest Reserve, Wong said: “Of course, we had to use pictures taken outside the park because Datuk Sam had barred us entry.”

All forestry activities are regulated under environment protection rules and “felling or extraction of timber covering an area of 100ha or more bust less than 500ha, requires submission of PMM (Proposed Mitigation Measures) to the Environment Protection Department (EPD)”.

Sepa claims that a check with EPD showed no PMM had been submitted by either Sabah Parks or TGE.

On barring citizens from entry to a pristine forest like Tawau Hill Park, Wong said the Sabah Environment Protection Enactment reads “…every person shall have a duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effect on the environment arising from any activity carried out by or on behalf of that person whether or not such activity is licensed or permitted in writing by the Director in accordance with this Environment.”

“So, Sabah’s environmental law gives legal mandate to the ordinary citizens to exercise their duty to protect their environment from adverse effects even when those projects had official sanction,” he said.

“But how can we exercise that duty when a director of department bars us entry?” he asked.

Sepa’s curiosity is not the only one that’s been aroused. Tawau residents have long been asking about the steady stream of logging trucks that have been noticed exiting the area for several months.

Sri Tanjung Assemblyman, Chan Foong Hing has written several letters seeking clarification over the land clearing taking place at the site of the geothermal plant and sought assurance that the project was not also a license for the developers to start logging the area for profit.


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