Here you can see a stretch of the collapsed slope near the Lighthouse Academy along the road to Batu Ferringhi. The far end, covered in a blue plastic sheet, looks steep.
Check out the gaping hole on the slope (arrow). The clump of soil is held together by plants still standing precariously by the side of the road above.
While holding your gaze at that hole, notice the passing truck above the slope (circled). Shudders!
The tragedy – four innocent lives lost – highlights concerns about the road leading to Batu Ferringhi, where high density property development has been approved over the last decade (beyond what the Penang Structure Plan had allowed?) leading to extra traffic load on the road.
In 2015, I blogged about an engineer residing in Batu Ferringhi who was alarmed when he noticed cracks had appeared further down the road leading to the beach hotels.
I wrote then: “Residents worry that the supporting infrastructure (eg roads) will be unable to cope with the higher density.”
Was that road ever designed to handle the present volume of traffic caused by the higher density of property development allowed in Batu Ferringhi? Did those densities exceed the low density allowed for this tourism belt under the then Penang Structure Plan? Did that original road design envisage road-widening?
The chief minister has finally ordered checks on the entire 15km stretch of road leading to the beach hotels.
We now see the subtle art of tai chi at play among the various players and agencies.
Much of the responsibility for the landslide is now being thrust on the land owner facing the slopes beyond the road. Certainly, more light must be shed on what was going on at the Lighthouse Academy.
Obviously, there was an issue (erosion?) with the slope for the property owner to want to build retaining walls. (Did the school have other plans in the pipeline?)
The question is, whose responsibility was it to monitor all these hill slopes above and below these roads especially as cracks on the road had been noticed.
The key point is this: If the authorities were unable to monitor slopes along roads at ground level, what confidence can we have that they have the inclination and capacity to monitor slopes along roads higher up the hills of Penang?
Think of the planned paired highway on the hill slopes of this area. Think also of the mega six-lane Pan Island Link and tunnels high above the hills, beyond the Kek Lok Si and close to the Air Itam Dam.
What happens if there is an issue with the slopes above and below these roads caused by the highway construction or the traffic load? Whose responsibility would it be to undertake remedial work along those slopes: those whose bright idea it was to build such highways on sensitive hill slopes – or the property owners of the affected land and slopes below and above? Who absorbs the cost? How long will it take to get approval for the remedial work? Who bears the cost of hiring a consultant engineer and contractors? What if the fault lies with the hill-slope highway itself on risky, landslide-prone hill slopes?
I don’t think those in government have thought through all these issues in their haste to $build, $build, $build 70km of highways on this small stressed island.
It is certainly ironic that the name of the resort near the latest landslide to hit Penang is Lost Paradise.