Premature opposition: Feasibility studies, local consultation yet to be carried out on cascading dam projects

Datuk Gerawat Gala. Photo credit: Sarawak Public Communications Unit (Ukas)

KUCHING, Jan 18: The proposed cascading dam projects, including in Sungai Tutoh of Baram, are in preliminary stage in the Sarawak government’s plans with its implementation contingent upon a comprehensive feasibility studies examining technical and commercial viability, as well as obtaining consent from local community through engagements and consultations.

Deputy Minister in the Premier of Sarawak’s Department (Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring) Dato Gerawat Gala highlighted this in responding to concerns and oppositions raised by several quarters including Senator Abun Sui Anyit, non-profit organisation Save Rivers and affected local communities.

“Those reported to be against the building of cascading dam should not jump the gun and start campaigning against the proposal before the start of the feasibility study and the final decision-making process.

“Wait for the right information to be communicated during engagement sessions to be conducted and to express your views, concerns and suggestions at that time. Keep an open mind and be rational instead of getting agitated and emotional prematurely,” he said in a statement today.

Two days ago, Save Rivers is reported to have collected 500 signatures in a petition addressed to Premier of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, expressing their concern about the proposed cascading dam along Tutoh River. The petition demands that local community interests not to be overlooked and requests access to the feasibility study.

Gerawat emphasised that the decision whether to proceed with the cascading dam project depends on the feasibility study to be carried out by Sarawak Energy to assess the technical and commercial viability of the project.

More importantly, he affirmed that the government and implementing agency would engage with affected communities, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from respective areas, as part of the feasibility study and consider their concerns and interests to ensure the socio economic welfare of the communities involved is taken care and improved.

“The government do take into account past experiences and lessons learnt from projects like Bakun, Murum and ongoing Baleh dam to ensure that the proposed cascading dam, which is a different approach using different technology, will bring better and greater socio economic opportunities and benefit for the local communities.

“The government would prioritise the rights and legitimate interest of affected local communities in the implementation,” he stressed.

Gerawat pointed out that the rakyat in Baram need to learn from past negative experience with irresponsible NGOs opposing development which has in turn, deprived the people from benefitting from development projects planned by the government.

Urging people to be wise and not let their future be determined by these parties and NGOs, he said people should support government initiatives, such as the road to be built from Marudi to Long Terawan and Long Iman which will form part of the Sarawak-Sabah Link Road 2 and the proposed cascading dam at Sungai Tutoh.

Highlighting the unique characteristics of the cascading dam concept, Gerawat explained that it would not create massive reservoirs, cause floods, or significantly impact large land areas, thus minimising environmental consequences.

He cited examples from other countries where cascading dams have operated safely with minimal social and environmental impact.

“The government can consider giving opportunity for local community to have share in the cascading dam as a source of revenue. All goverment-planned developments aim to benefit the rakyat, respecting their wishes without imposing any projects against their will,” he said.

Gerawat added that the cascading dam could alleviate the recurrent flood issues faced by longhouses along the Tutoh river, which often destroy their properties and crops.

“With the construction of planned roads from Miri to Long Terawan and Long Iman in the next few years, the reliance on river transport along the Tutoh river will be reduced significantly based on the experience in Marudi where express boat services from Kuala Baram to Marudi have ceased since the completion of the road from Miri to Marudi.

“Similarly express boat services between Sibu and Kapit using the Rejang river have significantly reduced after the completion of the road linking Kapit to Sibu.

“This road to Long Terawan and Long Iman together with the Sarawak-Sabah Link Road 2 will open up vast economic opportunities for our rakyat in Baram including Tutoh area,” he stressed. — DayakDaily