An ugly site of what looks like massive earthworks and hill-cutting being carried out on steep slopes at Mount Erskine in Penang has raised alarm bells among residents living in the area.
The activity is being carried out quite close to the Mont Residence apartments in Tanjung Tokong, which may pose danger to residents, according to an environmental NGO.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president Meenakshi Raman expressed grave concern and alarm over the earthworks and hill-cutting works.
She said SAM was alerted to the activity by concerned Penangites, who shared pictures of the on-going earthworks.
"We understand that a significant part of the hill-cutting involves slopes above 250 feet (75m) and are on very steep gradient above 25 degrees," Meenakshi said in a statement today.
"SAM has also learnt that in September 2018, Penang Hills Watch (PHW), which is an NGO initiative, alerted the state authorities and the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) about the hill-cutting activities.
"We understand PHW was informed that mitigation works were being carried out at the site, which is on land belonging to the state government," she said.
Malaysiakini's examination of satellite imagery taken by the European Space Agency's Sentinel 2 satellite constellation found signs of land disturbances in the area highlighted by SAM since at least early this year.
Malaysiakini has contacted MBPP mayor Yew Tung Seang but was told he is not available for comment.
Meenakshi called on the state authority and the MBPP to explain what these “mitigation works” are and how come such steep slopes are being cut and cleared.
The state policy under the Penang Structure Plan, she added, is to protect hill lands and not allow earthworks on land above 250 feet or slopes which exceeded 25-degree gradient.
"Given that this is public land, we are alarmed that such hill-cutting and clearing is going on," Meenakshi said.
Meenakshi further pointed out the NGO’s concern that many parts of the slopes being bare.
She said in this rainy season, serious soil erosion will result, contributing to landslides and flash floods in the area.
The latest landslide incident in June, which happened in Tanjung Bungah, claimed four lives.
"We are very worried of a repeat of landslide tragedies such as that at the Granito site and the Bukit Kukus in Paya Terubong which led to the death of workers working in the area," Meenakshi recalled.
After the Bukit Kukus incident in Oct last year, which claimed nine lives, the Penang government set up a special committee to investigate the matter.
"State authorities and the MBPP must provide an explanation immediately on the ongoing works, and also take urgent measures to prevent the likely environmental and social impacts caused by such hill-cutting and earthworks activities," she added.
Additional reporting by Koh Jun Lin