In the last one month Penang Hill has made headlines again. Not for landslides this time though,but instead for a revival of development plans on its slopes which include among many others building a cable car which runs from Botanic Gardens all the way to Teluk Bahang.
While special care has been taken when dishing out this new set of plans to develop Penang Hill under the ecotourism banner, questions remain as to how the implementation of the many projects under this plan will impact the health and continued existence of hills. A recreational spot for thousands of Penangites,we are not willing to see this hill of ours become a barren moonscape.
Anyway the plan is still in its draft stages and for the last few weeks,the Penang State government has taken the proactive step of engaging the public in getting feedback for the implementation of these plans for Penang Hill.
The Penang Hill Special Area Plan (SAP) draft was up for viewing till the 11th of December 2013 in Komtar and the Penang Hill Lower Station
Well here is my take on two of the more questionable projects under this plan.
1. Proposal for the Construction and Completion of a Cable Car System to Bukit Bendera.
Cable cars are often mooted as a more eco friendly access uphill as compared to service roads. But while its green side may be applauded, there are a few points which require special attention.
a) Supporting Towers.
All cable car systems require supporting towers to carry the weight of each cable cart. Building of supporting towers are said to involve minimal damage to the surrounding eco system but :-
i) Will each supporting tower require a service road to upkeep their maintenance?
This will involve a lot of clearing of vegetation especially along environmentally sensitive ecosystems in parts of the cable car pathway
ii) Penang Hill slope is very prone to landslides and slips especially along slopes with more than 25 degree inclination. How will the cable car be engineered to overcome this problem?
Lets take the example of the Mat Chinchang cable car in Langkawi. This model cannot be followed here in Penang as it consists of pillars which are directly drilled into the limestone mass of the mountain. Landslides are of a lesser chance in Mat Chinchang as the top soil is thinner than that of Penang Hill which is more of a granitic mass and has thicker top soil. The cable car route from Youth Park and Botanical Gardens would follow an already landslide prone slope and which was hit by 10+ landslides in the month of September 2013 alone.
While the slopes between Teluk Bahang and Penang Hill have little or no history of human induced landslides, they are sharply steeper than the slopes between Botanic Gardens/Youth Park and Penang Hill with Class 4 slopes (gradients of more than 35 degrees) at many parts. Landslides are a certainty if any concrete structure is built on these slopes, as construction in the forest leaves gaps in the forest floor which are prone to landslide when it rains
Proposed route for the cable car consists of 3 separate streches between Penang Hill and Teluk Bahang (8km),Penang Hill and the Botanic Gardens (3km) and Penang Hill and Youth Park (3km)
Box in Yellow
Stretch between Penang Hill and Bukit Laksamana and down to Taman Rimba Telok Bahang.Between Penang Hill and Bukit Laksamana hill slopes drop 250-300 meters steeply. Between Bukit Laksamana and Rimba Telok Bahang,the trail is also a steep drop of 350-400 meters. Part of the last non degraded stretch of rainforest left on Penang Island. Contains Class 4 Slopes
Box in Red
Part of the visible slope of Penang Hill and serviced by the jeep road and many natureGentle slopes but very prone to landslides. Has Class 4 slopes but lesser than yellow area.
Landslide at Station 84,located in the Red area
How do you ensure fatal landslides do not occur along the path of cable car in such a landslide prone area?Will the path of the cable car crisscross current nature trails and will the nature trails be affected (i.e. public barred from using the particular trail)?
b) Impact of Cable Car on Biodiversity
Penang Hill’s ecosystem is the one of most well preserved and untouched natural landscape left on the island. Building this cable car network is inevitably going to create gaps in the forest which would be detrimental to the ecosystem and might result in erosion of forest floor soil
i) How many square meters of land will be cleared to make the base of the supporting towers?
Bigger the base of the supporting tower, the more trees are cleared and more exposed soil.
The thick forest between Bukit Laksamana and Penang Hill.
ii)Most cable car paths require vegetation below it to be felled to prevent the cable cart from colliding with the trees. Will this be carried out for the Penang Cable Car? If so, a total of 14KM has to be cleared for the cable car path. How many hectares of forest will need to be cleared for this project? Will it affect environmentally sensitive areas especially near the summit of Penang Hill,Western Hill and Bukit Laksamana?
An example of a cable car path.Note the blue box shows the area where the vegetation has been cleared for smooth movement of cable car.
c) Impact of Cable Car on Water Catchment Areas
i) The Cable Car from Botanic Gardens up to Penang Hill will cut through the Waterfall Catchment Area which feeds the reservoir in the Penang Botanic Gardens.
ii) The stretch of Cable Car from Penang Hill to Teluk Bahang also cuts through two important water catchment areas on the island which are:-
-The stretch between Penang Hill Summit and Bukit Laksamana cuts through the Batu Ferringgi Catchment Area which feeds into the Batu Ferringghi Aquaduct and the Chin Farm Resevoir.
– The stretch between Bukit Laksamana and Teluk Bahang cuts through the catchment area for the Teluk Bahang Dam.
With this in mind, how do you ensure that while the construction of the cable car is carried out, siltation of these important catchment streams does not happen?
What would the implications of a service road to upkeep the Supporting Towers be towards these catchment rivers?
Pilling work upstream to build Supporting Towers for the Cable Car may result in siltation of rivers like the on shown which feeds into the Batu Ferringghi Aquaduct.
2. Proposal for the Development and Hiking of Existing Girdle Road and Forest Trails
I would applaud this idea but I would like to remind the authorities that while it has noble intentions to develop forest trails caution needs to be practiced such that the NATURAL CHARACTER of the trails are not disturbed
A few suggestion on preserving trails include:-
i)Do not cement or tar existing nature trails
Most tourists/hikers love the feel of natural ground below their feet. Tarring or cementing trails only creates a non natural environment and leads to erosion and cutting of slopes. It is also a sore waste of taxpayers’ money to tar/cement a trail in the jungle, when tourists/hikers come to experience “real” nature
Cementing of trails is an unnecessary waste of taxpayers money.It also clears alot of vegetation in its path
ii)Markers should be placed at each 10-20 meter intervals along trails.
iii) When nature trails are widened, trees which are along the trail should not be cut down but instead the trail made to skirt around the tree.