Turning the tide against critics

Prangin Canal flows through the Sia Boey Rejuvenation Project Site. The old market building is on the right and Komtar is in the background.

SIA Boey in Penang is set to become the first ‘Urban Archaeological Park’ in Malaysia once conservation works are completed by next month.

The 5.45-acre site bounded by Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong, Jalan Magazine, Lebuh Carnarvon and Jalan C.Y. Choy will be a usable public space.

This will safeguard and restore the historic cultural and heritage values of the area, which has been significant to George Town since the early 1800s.

Otherwise known as Ujung Pasir or Prangin, its canal once demarcated city boundaries and had extensive fortifications.

Besides being an important artery for trade, it historically also drained swamp land in surrounding areas for agriculture, and to allow the construction of residential and commercial buildings.

Works under the Sia Boey Rejuvenation Project are spearheaded by the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI).

It included the rehabilitation of a 220m stretch of the Prangin Canal which is now an enclosed but self-sustaining body of water, and the creation of a bypass.

GTWHI general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee stressed that the canal, which stretches approximately 11.7km according to an 1881 map from the Governor of the Straits Settlement, is not a river as there is no natural source of water.

“The Prangin Channel Ditch, commonly known as Prangin Canal, functions primarily as a monsoon or storm water drain collecting water runoff from roads, and possibly from septic tanks and kitchens.

“So why can’t we clean the whole canal? Why must we create a bypass or diversion? Because the upstream catchment area is about 278 acres.

“This extends from Burmah Road, Anson Road, Muntri Street, Beach Street and Magazine Road, encompassing a vast portion of the UNESCO-listed George Town World Heritage Site, ” she pointed out.

Ang said this in an on-site press conference cum technical briefing last week on Thursday to address recent criticisms.

PDC senior deputy general manager Datuk Yeoh Lean Huat explained that the diversion was necessary to prevent discharge from the developed upstream catchment area from flowing into the rehabilitated section.

“Assuming that each acre has 30 houses, you have over 8, 000 houses. Not all are served by sewer lines. Some may still have old septic tanks.

“This is a challenge as there is no sufficient area to build a treatment plant to treat the discharge before it goes into the canal, ” he said.

He added that the diversion, besides making the area less smelly and more conducive for public use, is not permanent.

It can be removed or opened up, should a solution to clean or treat the upstream discharge be available in the future.

He also noted that the rehabilitated section also serves as on-site water retention during heavy rainfall, helping with flood mitigation.

The Rejuvenation Project also included conservation of the old Prangin Market, and archaeological studies of the old canal basin wall and police barracks.

From June 2018 to March this year, GTWHI conducted rescue archaeology of the canal through sieving of silt deposits.

It involved over 4, 000 man-hours of work and at least 15, 000 artefacts weighing over a tonne were recovered, said Ang.

They included glass, pottery, coins and metal objects, currently being inventoried and analysed.

Landscaping works are now being done on the site, with at least 177 new trees planted. A future phase will involve restoring the dilapidated shophouses on site.

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