Saturday, January 8, 2011

Subject: Pulau Balang Brigde media release

The Pulau Balang Bridge project, which represents the principal threat to the valuable ecosystems of Balikpapan Bay and Sungai Wain Protection Forests, is getting alarmingly close to its realization – regardless the fact that there are feasible and even more economical alternatives, which would not harm the environment - at least not in such a huge scale as the Pulau Balang Bridge project. As the situation becomes acute, I decided to compile each month all media release on this issue, in order to keep all environmentalists aware of the recent development. Most of the links will be in Indonesian, so I will explain them in English to allow for an international exposure.

Last month, conservationists were completely silent in newspapers. But not the developers! The following articles promote the Pulau Balang Bridge as a part of a big project of the Samarinda-Balikpapan Freeway:
The articles cite the Governor Awang Faroek and also the Head of the provincial Public Works Department (Dinas Pekerjaan Umum) and the Head of the Regional Planning Committee in Balikpapan (Bappeda Balikpapan). According to the Governor, all the 5 simultaneous packets of the mega-project should be completed in 2 years, starting in 12 January 2011 (which is, fortunately, absolutely unrealistic!). The megaproject threatens 3 protected areas (Taman Hutan Raya Bulkit Soeharto, Hutan Lindung Manggar and Hutan Lindung Sungai Wain) as well as the so-far-unprotected Balikpapan Bay coast. But note that as far as Balikpapan Bay and Sungai Wain are concerned, nothing of the principal plans described in the articles would need to change in case of building the environmentally friendly Tanjung Batu Bridge instead of the environmentally unfriendly Pualu Balang Bridge! The junction, in 13th km, would be just same! Even more so, the traffic would be more effective in
this case of the Tanjung Batu Bridge, as there would be no need to make a long detour along the Balikpapan Bay coast! Regardless the fact, the provincial government still insists on the environmentally unfriendly and economically less effective option!

The Governor, as the principal lobbyist, promotes the Pulau Balang Bridge whenever he can. This is illustrated by a following series of articles:
Article 3
Article 4
Article 5
Article 6

One of the influential stakeholders, who appears to be affected by the Governor’s lobby, is even the vice president Boediono, as shown by mentioning of the Pulau Balang Bridge in the following article:
Article 7

In another article, the governor states that the province will allocate as much as Rp 500 milliard from the provincial budget (APBD Kaltim 2011) for the whole Samarinda-Balikpapan freeway megaproject. He also states that the Minister of Forestry already agreed to grant the land in two protected areas for the freeway construction. This is one of many indications of the disrespect to nature conservation shown by both the provincial government and the Ministry of Forestry.
Article 8

Compared to the provincial government, the local governments (Balikpapan and Penajam) are less blindfolded and they do consider the alternative options, too, as explained in the following article by Suryanto, the Head of the Regional Planning Committee (Bappeda Balikpapan):
According to this article, Balikpapan government supports the proposal to build a bridge directly from Balikpapan to Penajam, as originally proposed by the other local government, Penajam Paser Utara (PPU). But there has been no progress yet, Balikpapan still waits for the Feasibility Study, which is being compiled by the PPU government. There has however been one important progress. Both local governments seem to agree, at last, that the Melawai-Nipahnipah option of the bridge is not feasible. This unrealistic option, proposed long time ago by the PPU government, appeared to be one of the principal reasons for the scepticism of those who advocated the environmentally unfriendly Pulau Balang option. Now two close-by alternatives remain, namely Tanjung Batu - Kerok and Kariangau - Gunung Seteleng. These alternatives could be considered feasible and more economical and ecological compared to the Pulau Balang option.

The feasibility study, which should finally determine the best location of the bridge, may take about one year, although there is an option of updating an earlier (2006) study by PT Perentjana Djaya. The estimated length of the bridge would be about 4.4 km and the projected costs about Rp 2,7 trillion. A broader project, which includes a second bridge connecting Tanjung Batu with the industrial zone across the Wain River, would approach Rp 4 trillion. But even this budget could still compete with the Pulau Balang Bridge and the connecting road option.
The main problem is, however, that the local governments do not propose the direct bridge as an alternative to the Pulau Balang Bridge. Instead, they appear to present it as a second bridge to be built! This would of course solve none of the environmental problems relating to the Pulau Balang Bridge project. And, in addition, it would be a very wasteful strategy to start two simultaneous megaprojects, competing with each other, instead of only one, well-planned and well-managed.

Several articles demonstrate indirectly how dangerous the Pulau Balang Bridge project is. It leads to completely uncontrolled encroachment to the natural forests along Balikpapan Bay, illegal as well as legal. The legal encroachment includes plans to build an electric power line from Balikpapan in direction to Pulau Balang:
Article 9
Article 10
Article 11
Article 12
Article 13
Article 15
The cited articles do not state that the power lines will lead to Pulau Balang. Instead, only Teluk Waru (still within the Kariangau Industrial Area) is mentioned, which would be well founded. But – the field surveys clearly show that since April 2009, there are survey trails cut northwards from Teluk Waru, in the direction of Pulau Balang! And also the general plan states the same. Of course, there is virtually no need to have electric wiring in a protected natural area – as long as the government means it serious that the area would remain natural and protected. But the problem is that such promises are false and misleading. Instead, the government apparently intends to convert gradually the whole area into industry. Hence the need of electricity! But once the power lines are built, it would be even more difficult to stop further encroachment and destruction. The power lines are of course necessary for the Kariangau Industrial Area, south of the
Solokpuda River. But they should definitely not be directed further in direction to Pualu Balang!

Hopefully, the New Year will eventually bring some better news!

Stanislav Lhota


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