Bukit Larut Cable-Car: Potential Environmental Disaster

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Might the Perak state government’s controversial cable-car project linking Taiping to Bukit Larut, go the same way as the Penang botanical gardens project dubbed ‘the fallen arches’? Both these projects were opposed by the residents of Taiping, and NGOs, because they would destroy and violate the serenity of its natural environment and pristine beauty.

This cable-car project may be another white elephant, but it would certainly cause irreversible damage to Taiping’s water catchment area. Many are unhappy that the authorities had to lie low when the protests were a

Questions

What happens if the project fails to attract the so-called development? What happens if the rich bio-diversity is lost forever? What happens if the water catchment area suffers irreversible damage? What will happen to the residents if they were never consulted about any developmental proposals in their area?

Oldest Hill Resort

Bukit Larut or Maxwell Hill is the country’s oldest hill-resort. The water catchment area provides water to over 500,000 households. Besides, the Matang Mangrove Forest reserve requires water from Bukit Larut, as do local industries.

Development Attempts

The first attempt to develop Bukit Larut involved the construction of a multi-story hotel on the hill and another in Taiping’s Lake Gardens. This was during Menteri Besar Ramli Ngah Talib’s tenure and it needed the intervention of the Sultan to halt the development.

Latest Revival

The second was when Pakatan’s Nga Kor Ming encouraged the RM60m cable-car project because people could reach the peak in 11 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes by Land-Rover. He mentioned a horrific 1,000 visitors per hour if the cable-car was operated at maximum capacity.

In the third and latest revival of the project, the Menteri Besar’s comments caused consternation. He said, “An Environmental Impact Assessment report is not required as the project does not involve major development – no trees would be felled or clearing of land”.

The MB mirrored Nga Kor Ming’s proposal that the project would not damage the eco-system, as there would be minimal hill-cutting with helicopters being used during construction.

Window Dressing

However a quick telephone survey suggests intense disagreement and disapproval of the cable-car project.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens quickly pointed out that such assurances were only window-dressing. One retired plantation manager said, “Once the project starts, there is little chance of stopping it. The government will have to pay compensation to the company involved. Helicopters will surely drive away the small animals that live there.”

MB’s Statement Challenged

Many expressed their disappointment with the Menteri Besar saying no Environmental Impact Assessment was needed because, “the project did not involve major development”.

A Taiping student now studying in Singapore said, “He is neither an environmentalist nor a conservationist. He is not qualified to make such statements.”

One-hundred-and-twenty-one years ago, Isabella Bird, a Victorian, went on an expedition to Malaya, and stopped off at the home of Perak’s Assistant Resident, W.E. Maxwell, in Taiping. She described the beautiful Perak countryside and hills around Taiping in her book, ‘The Golden Chersonese’. She described the ‘bracing air’, ‘the cool nights’ and talked of her fascination with the flora and fauna of the hills.

Fragile Eco-System

Today, conservationists have discovered that Bukit Larut is home to small animals such as the rhinoceros hornbill, large moths, butterflies, birds, beetles, monkeys and Pope’s Pit Viper.

With a cable-car, the constant stream of day-trippers will have dire consequences on the fragile ecosystem of Bukit Larut.

At present, the limit on people, because of transportation, becomes a good protective mechanism. Thus, another ‘Pulau Redang situation’ is averted – when huge visitor numbers destroyed the island’s coral reefs.

Foresight and Vision needed

The development and conservation of Bukit Larut requires foresight and vision. Our other hill stations have lost their charm and have become too commercialised, polluted, congested, warmer (in temperature) and they suffer massive litter problems.

Once Bukit Larut is ‘modernised’, with food outlets and other amenities for our instant entertainment and gratification, the destruction will accelerate.

Politicians should not sacrifice our natural treasures in the name of progress and development. What will we leave our children, if there was nothing to appreciate and continue to protect, on behalf of future generations?

6 thoughts on “Bukit Larut Cable-Car: Potential Environmental Disaster

  1. If Bukit Temoh can have compensation, then why not Bukit Larut?

    When a Shell tanker skidded near the water catchment centre in Batu 12 Jalan Tapah-Cameron Highlands on Saturday, 31 July 2010, the Perak government wanted the oil company, Shell, to bear the full cost of the resultant oil spill.

    Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir says Shell should be held responsible for any damage and losses caused by the spill. He said, “Oil spill is not a small matter because it will have an impact on the environment, and in this case, to the Perak Water Supply Authority’s water catchment centre at Batu 10, Bukit Temoh. The state government will ask for the necessary compensation, especially concerning the state’s water resources”.

    Could Datuk Zambry please apply the same concern and importance to another water catchment area?

    This is the water catchment area which supplies water to the 500,000 residents in the Larut-Matang-Selama district.

    The residents there will suffer from the Bukit Larut cable car project. Incredibly, the MB brushed aside an Environment Impact Assessment for Bukit Larut.

    Maybe the residents of Taiping should be asking the Perak state government and Taiping Cable Car Sdn Bhd for compensation?

  2. Land Rover services up and down the Larut Hills are unique in Malaysia. While the other hill resorts are over-developed at the expense of natural terrain and vegetation Bukit Larut remains the last, quiet hill destination for nature lovers.

    Sustainable tourism is not possible with non-sustainable numbers. Can the hills cope with 1000 visitors per hour, that is, about 8000 per day? How much more concrete amenities are needed? How many of the cable cars will be constantly carrying rubbish to be disposed of in Taiping. Were you thinking that rubbish should be left up there? What about sewerage treatment and disposal?

    Keep the ecologically and physically fragile Larut a nature lover’s hill resort for tranquil, low impact tourism. It will get more popular if kept low-key for the right tourists, not the rushed day-trippers; but, not if the cable car goes ahead. While these hills are permanently scarred, what are the chances for it not to become a white elephant?

    Taiping does not need to compete with other developed hills. Please stop the project before you create another environmental disaster and deprive the people of a natural hill destiination.

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