Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Miri to Mukah Flyover with MASWINGS : Our fast changing coastal landscape

One new thing for me since braving myself to take up flying on commercial Twin-Otter De-Havilland flights offered by MASWINGS from Miri International airport is the lay of the land from a bird's eye view. It's the next best thing after Google Earth in my opinion.

Cruising along established roads or waterways, one is always limited by what's in front on the horizon if not by the stuff at the verge of the roads. Climb higher one might get slightly more expansive view, the ultimate however has to be the view from a small air-craft. The world simply opens up as far as the yes can see and portholes allow.

The first impression of city-slickers approaching Miri airport for the first time 10-15 years ago has to be along the lines, "Dang, so many trees! What am I doing here? So much green!". It's hard-pressed for anyone to say that these days with all the activities taking place in the plantation sector.

The Miri-Bario flight 2 years ago was an eye opener, it completely crushed the idea that Sarawak is ALL jungles. Similar flights though sometimes through different flight paths several times later confirmed that there's indeed dwindling dark green patches out there (oil palm doesn't count!). There's always some new patch being cut, burnt, opened up or simply drained.

Our walk along the beach Dec 2008 showed pristine sandy beaches along the coast from Bakam to Tg Similajau, lined with verdant casuarinas, other stunted coastal schrub vegetation including impenetrable 12-15 foot high pandanus in many stretches.

From the air, the view is more telling. Save from several areas already protected under the purview of World Heritage Sites, National Parks, Forest Reserves, and Sanctuaries; the remaining is pretty much fair game with the right papers. Once the documentation that entitles a person or more usually companies are obtained, the parcels alienated, land-clearing work quickly follows.

The following are some images obtained from the air via a MASWINGs flight Miri-Mukah-Miri showing some telling developments along our coast. It was probably much different from 10 years ago, visibly even more marked difference in the next 5 years.

A multi-million ringgit abode of a local tycoon at Tg Lobang comes complete with a sizable feng-shui water feature. Could be the grandest structure in northern Sarawak, second only to the other mansions along the same ridge belonging to fellow timber/construction/plantation tycoons.

Lambir Hills National Park now sits in the middle of a sea of oil palm plantations.

Beraya, one can almost make out the 3 wooden chalets and longhouse of Beraya Laut Resort on the bottom left corner.

Kuala Sg Sibuti and Kuala Sg Niah, the darker patches are whats left of the coastal forest, the rest are oil palm plantation.

Mukah, looks like there's not much else left in the area other than oil palm, forest plantations, heavy industries and a town poised to jeep up with the rest.

The Mukah Coal Fired Power Station, commissioned in 2008, operated by SESCO and owned by Sarawak Energy. The plant was built by China National Machinery & Equipment Import & Export Corporation was commissioned in 2009 with 2 x 135MW output mostly to supply power to the new Press Metal Sarawak Aluminium Smelter next door. Coal is mined nearby and transported by lorry from mines of Sarawak Coal Resourses in Mukah-Balingian area. The Mukah Coalfield is bounded by Batang Mukah on the west and Batang Balingian on the east and is situated on the low lying coastal plain of Mukah Division. The coal field is located approximately 20km to the southeast of Mukah town with a geographical position of 112 o 20 ‘E and 2o 45 ‘N.

Mukah Press Metal Aluminium Smelting Plant is the first ever aluminium-smelting plant in Malaysia. With technology provided from Aluminium Corporation of China Limited (CHALCO), an aluminium company in China. As the fourth largest aluminium player in the world, Press Metal has successfully secured 600 megawatt of electricity supply for aluminium smelting capacity in mid 2009. With additional electricity supply, total capacity expected to reach 300,000 metric tonnes per annum by 2010 / 2011. With subsequent developments, an aluminium extrusion capacity of 100,000 metric tonnes per annum is expected. Press Metal has paid a premium of RM7,750,000 for the alienation of the Mukah land measuring approximately 366 hectares or 905 acres for it's Mukah operation. The smelting plant is 80% owned by it's subsidiary, Press Metal Sarawak Sdn Bhd (“PMS”), the other 20% owned by Sumitomo Corp.

Northern segment Samalaju, no EIA in sight and yet all trees already taken down and burnt to cinder. Sited along this stretch among others will be the planned Asian Minerals Limited Mangan Smelter wholly owned by AML; and Salco Aluminium Smelter, a joint venture between Rio Tinto Group and Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd. AML currently owns three mining and exploration concessions in African countries and two manganese alloy smelting plants in China. It expects to transport between 40,000 metric tonnes (MT) and 50,000 MT of manganese ore per ship from South Africa, Brazil and Australia which will be discharged at the Samalaju Port. They target to import 500,000 MT per annum of raw materials and export 150,000 MT of final products to overseas markets as well as the local Malaysian markets. Samalaju Industrial Park had also attracted Japan’s Tokuyama Corp which has begun earthworks to build a plant to produce polycrystalline silicon for solar cells, the 6,000-tonne capacity plant is expected to be operational in 2013, a RM$2bil investment.

Southern segment Samalaju, site of the new Samalaju Port, DEIA due to start in 2011. Bintulu Port Holding Authority said it was appointed to build, own and operate the new state port, the fourth in Sarawak. The other three state ports are in Kuching, Sibu and Miri. The state has earmarked some 450ha for the port project. The new port will serve the energy-intensive industries in the Samalaju Industrial Park within the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy.

Tanjong Payong with a little patch of secondary forest left standing but not for long. Road network and drainage of peatswamps are taking place at a feverish pace.

Kuala Sg Suai, pattches of recently prepared areas ready for planting. Suai is the most recent area to be redeveloped as oil palm plantations.

Kuala Sg Niah, most parts of Niah other than a small patch on the coast have all been planted with palm oil.

Words and images by Nazeri Abghani
Details from various public sources.

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