Heated argument over Botak Hill ‘mitigation’ work during site visit

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Up on Botak Hill 27 January 2016

An engineer (right) involved in the mitigation work under intense questioning by Penang Forum steering committee members as Chow Kon Yeow (centre) looks down.

A heated discussion took place during a site visit to Botak Hill (Bukit Relau) this morning over whether the work being carried out was mitigation or restoration.

Half a dozen Penang Forum steering committee members, who had been invited along with about two dozen media personnel for a site visit, were alarmed to see at close range the extent of the “mitigation”. Steep embankments, evidence of rock blasting and landscaping, along with large drainage systems were visible.

The activists peppered the engineers involved in the mitigaton work and MBPP engineer Rajendran with relentless questions as they sought to establish the nature of the mitigation work and whether restoration would be eventually carried out.

“Restoration is Penang Forum’s word (not ours),” countered Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow.

At one point, while defending the mitigation work, Rajendran appeared to lose his cool, prompting MBPP president Patahiyah to intervene and ask him to calm down, “we are all friends here”.

The concern among the activists is that the mitigation work could be paving the way for residential development of bungalows in the longer term. Instead, they want the site restored to its original condition.

The engineers, for their part, spoke about planting grass and some trees, whereas Penang Forum members asked why restoration specialists and forestry experts were not engaged for more careful restoration. MBPP councillor Lim Mah Hui said he had given the names of ecological restoration experts to the MBPP a long time ago.

Penang exco member Chow Kon Yeow was then asked if the state authorities would approve any development on the hill top, which is well over 250 feet above sea level.

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“If they submit an application, we will consider,” he said, cryptically. “We could reject it.”

“But you could also approve it, right?” said another activist, to which Chow nodded.

The state government had earlier said there would be no development at the top.

Although this was supposed to be a site visit, the Penang Forum steering committee members were not taken to the actual plot at the top belonging to General Accomplishment.

Instead, the government four-wheel drives ferrying the groups stopped short, at the upper-most edge of the adjacent property lot below, which belongs to Boon Siew. (The access road to the Bukit Relau summit cuts through this lot.)

Activists had wanted to see if there were any plots for bungalows on the flat land at the summit, but they were not taken there.

But see drone photos below taken in late 2015:

Bukit Relau/Botak Hill, Penang Nov-Dec 2015

One avid hiker who had visited the site told me work would stop whenever hikers neared the site.

Further below, still above the 250 feet above sea level threshold, work on 17 luxury bungalows under the Beverly Heights project by another developer is nearing completion. The steep, high retaining wall between the bungalows and the access road stands almost vertically.

Mitigation and restoration of Botak Hill

By Penang Forum steering committee

The hills of Penang not only play important ecological roles as water catchment areas and for biodiversity conservation but also have strong cultural and heritage values recognised by Penangites to be at par with the heritage significance of George Town.

Regrettably, there have been increasing cases of illegal land clearing on the hills of Penang over the past years which must be checked. The most daring and visible of recent illegal hill land clearing has happened on Bukit Relau at the location that is now popularly known as Botak Hill1.

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The Penang Forum has been informed that mitigation work is being carried out as part of the effort to restore Botak Hill.

It should be pointed out that mitigation and restoration are different, although these two terms are sometimes loosely used interchangeably. We need to be clear that any illegal hill cutting, earthwork, construction and road building should be restored to its original condition. Mitigation work for drainage and soil erosion prevention should be a temporary activity and removed when restoration and rehabilitation work is completed.

Mitigation

The EU defines mitigation as ‘measures to avoid, reduce and, if possible, remedy significant adverse effects’ (European Union, 1985).

Typically, it is used in project planning and also during project implementation. However, after the project, and when the adverse impacts are evident, these are measures to reduce impacts and ensure safety.

In hill slope projects, mitigation is often an engineering approach that seeks to prevent further adverse projects such as soil erosion and landslides. However, mitigation measures are for legal and approved projects. In the case of illegal construction, such as the extensive hill cutting on Bukit Relau or more popularly known as Botak Hill, mitigation by itself is not enough.

Mitigation measures, as a first step to reduce soil erosion of the illegally cleared land and to address safety concerns, must be limited and be environmentally sensitive and must not lead to a greater scale of clearing and destruction than is necessary.

Mitigation measures should not be a prelude for residential development housing projects on hill slopes higher than 250 feet above sea level, in the expectation that there may be changes in hill development policy and that residential development would be permitted on hills.

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Restoration of damaged ecosystems

Restoration of a degraded ecosystem involves taking measures to return the ecosystem to its original natural state. It would require more time, effort and expertise to replant the vegetation that had been destroyed.
There is now a well-accepted methodology for restoration of cleared and degraded land based on a sub-discipline in ecological science called restoration ecology and it is now practised in many countries for hilly areas. In Asia, it is widely practised in China and the Philippines. Japan prohibits the clearing of forests especially on hill slopes, which hence do not need restoration.

Restoration of Botak Hill

Since Bukit Relau was illegally cleared and there had been no permission to turn the whole area for residential development, the damaged area must be restored to its original condition. The current engineering mitigation measures should be a temporary measure and the aim would be a restoration of the forest in the hills.

There are consultancy companies, mainly based in Kuala Lumpur, that can undertake restoration projects with the involvement of foresters and forest ecologists. In 2013, when the issue of illegal land clearing on Botak Hill received public attention, the Penang Forum did suggest bringing in a forest ecologist from the Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) to provide advice on restoring the cleared area – but did not get a response from the then MPPP (now MBPP).

Penang Forum maintains that measures to rehabilitate the ecosystem to its original condition should be the requirement for all illegal hill cutting, unapproved earthworks and deforestation. It reiterates that, specifically for Botak Hill, restoration measures must be carried out under advice and guidance of restoration ecology experts.

Penang Forum steering committee
26 January 2016

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Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
3 Feb 2016 2.54am

The words said just do not stack up with the actions being visibly taken. Something is not right. If these people think they can hoodwink the people of Penang, they’d better think again … and again … and again. I am really sorry for some friends who have had to be so humiliated just to keep their positions. What did Aung San Suu Kyi say about corruption being also the fear of losing one’s position or words to that effect. That fear can lead people to just do what is required for them to keep their positions. In other words,… Read more »

zoro
zoro
29 Jan 2016 12.46pm

penang forum with so many “experts” would instantly find out. they can demolish the engineer if he has vested interest. who cares if previously from developer or longkang man as long there is no conflict of interest.
so owning land above 250 ft since time memorial or after 2007 the land is worst than dead. the dead cannot even be buried above 250 ft. no choice ashes have to dump into the dead.better do it now otherwise there is objection

Penangkia
Penangkia
29 Jan 2016 12.40pm

From the photos, it looks like the road is built according to JKR guideline, in term of width and gradient. JKR approved road is needed for any further residential development. Why build such nice road for sole purpose of mitigation process?

zoro
zoro
29 Jan 2016 6.32pm
Reply to  Penangkia

logging contractor laid the pioneer tack which is wider than 4 wheel drive. then naturist use the 4 wheel drive with easy. same here. the developer has been cutting n transport earth. so now the road is wide for mitigate works

gk ong
gk ong
29 Jan 2016 10.57am

Make those hills above 250 ft national parks so that no housing is allowed to commemorate the year of Monkey so that the monkeys can breed and live in peace in natural surroun there tooding. Tunglang can live there too instead of intruding the Belum Reserves with his 4WD.

zoro
zoro
28 Jan 2016 11.21pm

Having land can also means having no land. What is the point of owing land over 250 ft. Where nothing can be done; not a road. This 250 ft is a raja bomoh figure adopted by gerakan Gomen in 2007. Why 250 ft? Any scientific and engineering basis or performing bomoh ritual and pluck from the air? Anil has some section shown. It is about 20 deg less than 25 deg if they are drawn to natural scale. Why not Penang greenies buy over land about 250 ft. Then there is real peace.

tunglang
tunglang
29 Jan 2016 8.47am
Reply to  Anil Netto

People bought the land knowing they can ‘twist’ the hill land laws to their favour via CAT’s subjective rezoning?
I sense there is some elements of corporate+political kam cheng in this Botak Hill Fiasco.
Time will reveal if not now, then after the demise of CAT in Penang.
And be careful of this engineer (pictured #1 above) whom I suspect was previously from a developer in Paya Terubong…

gk ong
gk ong
31 Jan 2016 2.11am
Reply to  Anil Netto

The engineer is trained to think outside the box and challenge the boundary conditions to achieve breakthrough. Any guidelines would have loopholes waiting to be exploited, if one suspends his conscience.

Don Theseiea
28 Jan 2016 9.42pm

A piece of work this size would have taken quite a few months in order for it to get this far. I personally noticed some activity in progress sometime in 2014. This could easily be seen from the Penang bridge when driving towards the island. I did ask about what was going on quite a few times but could not get any satisfactory answers. But looking at the pictures in the Star to-day certainly made me wonder how this developer could change the whole landscape to such an extent without the relevant authorities approvals. Even with to-day’s heated argument and… Read more »

zoro
zoro
28 Jan 2016 1.59pm

someone is twisting the story. malaysiakini reported differently. trees do not grown in 1 month but grass does and arrest any erosion. runoff are properly channel. environmentalist will be against karma if principles are not followed

Tang
Tang
28 Jan 2016 2.34pm
Reply to  zoro

Best is for passionate readers to hike up Botak Hills to refute or substantiate the claims in this article. Any kind sponsors for drinks and walking aids?

Charmaine
Charmaine
28 Jan 2016 1.22pm

Very unreasonable that Penang Forum continue to attack at the site when the rehabilitation work is on going. Cut hill, make noise, rehabilitate hill, also make noise. If they like to make noise, then go complain about barang naik issues affecting the rakyat.

calvinsankaran
28 Jan 2016 9.58pm
Reply to  Charmaine

How about harga rumah naik? Are we allowed to complain about this too or it is disallowed too in Penang these days ? The moment one questions the CM and his administration, we have the Red Guards emerging out of the woodwork shouting us down. I shudder what will happen if these people actually rule the Federal govt. People like Anil will be in jail.

tunglang
tunglang
29 Jan 2016 9.54am
Reply to  calvinsankaran

Anybody with a living, clear thinking brain & seeing eyes will not be blindly worshipping CAT & Niao Kong for all the hoo-ha-ha of 308 promises. We now see the true colours + change-face antics of CAT & Niao Kong for all the extravagant displays of Arrogance at state level administration. Even the China Opera cannot match the art of fast change-face skills of Niao Kong, not even Jackie Chan! Now we have Chow Chow as Niao Kong’s side kick (b’cos it is afraid to take the heat) to take the contention from us. One is miao, miao. Another is… Read more »

benny
benny
29 Jan 2016 12.51pm
Reply to  calvinsankaran

First time house buyer should be happy that speculators can no longer compete with them for houses below RM300k.
https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/328553

tunglang
tunglang
29 Jan 2016 10.45pm
Reply to  calvinsankaran

CEO Ah Piang: Ang Niao ah, kam-sia lu for this “sit on hill, sea view” reality. U ia hong sui ah! > (Ang Niao, thank you for this “sit on hill, sea view” reality. Truly great fengshui!) Ang Niao: Bo ha-mih lah. Lu scratch ua back with …., I scratch lu back with Yes, Yes claws. Song bo? > (Not at all. You scratch my back with (Anil censored), I scratch your back with Yes, Yes claws. Like it?) CEO Ah Piang: Song. Veri song! Kong ki lai, i lang gong kia. Lu gau. Niao thit-tho Chua. Who can win?… Read more »

Zuan
Zuan
28 Jan 2016 12.36pm

Why make so much noise as it is an effort to rehabilitate the botak hill?
Penang Forum should be constructive in critism.

If you want it to be restored to the original condition, why not do it to Bukit Bendera too? Demolish the colonial houses at Bukit Bendera since they are not natural!

Srini
Srini
28 Jan 2016 3.01pm
Reply to  Anil Netto

Property development on the hill should be acceptable if it is done properly.

zack
zack
29 Jan 2016 11.30am
Reply to  Anil Netto

Of course we can see that those who could not afford to buy those properties are jealous ans thus making noises.

tunglang
tunglang
28 Jan 2016 10.05am

A state gomen that makes a mistake (like this Botak Hill Saga) must bear the costs (compensation, public outrage, etc). It should not create public fear of surreal compensation which is not the responsibility of the people, who didn’t ask for it (the approval (of rezoning) & botak-ing of hills). If you dare to run a state gomen & shamelessly proclaim thyself as the best in Malaysia, then be a TRUE gentleman to admit thy mistakes & to swallow whatever the financial consequences of thy extravagance. If somebody’s donation is illegal, so is this botak hill saga which is born… Read more »

tunglang
tunglang
28 Jan 2016 9.52am

The Arrogant CAT is always arrogant. Chaired by an Arrogant Niao Kong. Deputies by A Chow Chow ( a quick learner of Niao Kong’s Kapitan Principles) Pandai-pandai play of words, but doesn’t deliver as promised – A Greener & Cleaner Penang. More of these CAT’s environmental sandiwaras must be ‘exposed’ to the public. Bloggers, writers & photographers. Do your part for the sake of a better Penang environment. I now reserve my Vote for an alternative choice in the next GE. Cat, you bluffing is one thing. Twisting & turning of words, playing hide & seek, & unprincipled actions (a… Read more »

Tang
Tang
28 Jan 2016 9.43am

Will the hills be private entity not accessible to not generally accomplished hikers? This is near similar scenario to what being echoed by Goh Ban Lee at Penang Property Summit at spice recently, in presence of YB Chow about off limit to pedestrians along the beach now developed by The Light IJM courtesy of reclaimed land deals with Gerakan for Jelutong Highways?

Tang
Tang
28 Jan 2016 9.40am

Chow said cannot fully restore a broken mirror as cracks remains visible. Something like that.

Plain Truth
Plain Truth
28 Jan 2016 9.40am

If this Chow is in my constituency, I won’t vote for him, period.

Tang
Tang
28 Jan 2016 9.39am

Private homes on top of hill generally accomplished with money pumped in to mitigate environmental impact, e.g. … waste to be channelled via underground piping that can fertilize the green plants do that less botak scene from beneath by the less privileged rakyat?

tunglang
tunglang
28 Jan 2016 3.28am

The Hokkien has a saying against hoodwinking:
Mai ka ua-lang thit-tho Chua.
(Don’t play snake game)

Talking about CAT principles, where got?
C = conniving (with cash rich botak hill developers)
A = accusing others for own environmental faults, the bogey game learn from Ameno
T = trickery of above 250ft no development land laws that can UBAH at CAT’s fancies

Tang
Tang
28 Jan 2016 2.08pm
Reply to  tunglang

Snake and ladder a popular 60s n 70s children game before the arrival of computer games like Nintendo or smartphone games.
Sometimes you think you can climb high via ladder, next without awareness a shaky situation can cause downfall.
Children can learn morale in this simplistic game. May be the greedy developers or aspiring politikus can learn from it ad well.

tunglang
tunglang
28 Jan 2016 3.14am

“If they submit an application, we will consider,” he said, cryptically. “We can reject it.” “But you can also approve it, right?” said another activist, to which Chow nodded. Don’t play the green card fooling with Penangites, Mr Chow Chow. You reject the word (restoration). You allowed the road up to the Botak Hill in the name of (mitigation). (Mitigate) for whom? For future richie bungalow residents of kam cheng? Isn’t it supposed to be returning the botak-ed hill to its original state of forested hill??? Don’t play the fool. Looking at your response & all the sandiwara (landscaping, restorative… Read more »

lim
28 Jan 2016 12.34am

Chow, what do you mean by you can also approve it when the hill is above 250′??? Please dont play game here. Stick to your policy and preserve environment !!! Tq

zoro
zoro
28 Jan 2016 12.31am

You need engineer because vegetation needs a few years to take effect. Meanwhile the ground need to be properly drained to dispel and transport of flash water or silt to lower reachers. If there is scarcity of land, prices of houses will go up and how much land us own by the people ( government) excluding those above 250 ft?