Earthworks halted as city council scrutinises paperwork for new clearing near ‘Botak Hill’

  • Metro News
  • Tuesday, 15 Sep 2020

EVEN before the infamous ‘Botak Hill’ can completely heal, another hilltop less than 1km from it and also visible from Penang Bridge has started ‘balding’ too.

The “stubborn” landowner had been ignoring a stop-work order and kept on cutting the hill slope to build a fruit orchard.

The orchard starts on the slope at about 250m above sea level, based on Google Earth Pro’s measurement tool.

It goes up to at about 350m above sea level, where a plateau has been cut on the hilltop.

Directly below this plateau on the steep western side of the hill is the densely populated Paya Terubong suburb.

Satellite photos reveal patches of neat rows of durian and other fruit trees across about 20ha.

Roads paved with concrete snake around the hillslope and based on Google Earth Pro’s archived satellite images of Penang, these roads began appearing sometime in mid-2014.

In Google Earth Pro’s latest photo dated March 12 this year, two lorries and an excavator could be seen on the newly bared peak at 350m above sea level.

On Google Maps, app users have marked two locations on this land, naming them “Bukit Gambir Summit” and “Famil Viewm Point”. Several app users have uploaded many panoramic pictures of mountain bikers and hikers being up there.

Aerial photos taken last month revealed that there is now a trail snaking up to the hilltop from Paya Terubong which does not show up in Google Earth Pro’s March 12 satellite picture, suggesting that this trail was built during the movement control order.

State environment committee chairman Phee Boon Poh gave assurance that all earthworks at the summit have completely stopped.

“There was an approval earlier by Agriculture Department for the replanting of durian trees up there.

“Penang Island City Council is now scrutinising the applications for earthworks, erosion and sediment control plan and planning permission.

“We are on top of the situation. All earthworks stopped, ” Phee said, adding that several government agencies went to the site recently in a joint operation and a few workers were detained for questioning.

In mid-2013, everyone crossing Penang Bridge towards the island could see a yellow scar forming along a hill, Bukit Relau, directly in the line of sight from the bridge.

A developer cut a road to the 400m hilltop and cleared an area of about 1ha without approval. It caused residential areas down hill to suffer from bad mud flows whenever it rained.

Environmental conservationists went ballistic and Penangites ended up calling it Botak Hill.

The developer was fined RM30,000. Starting from Sept 1, the state is empowered to issue stiffer penalties.

Developers and consulting engineers who fail to keep to their Erosion and Sediment Control Plans in Penang to the point of causing the collapse of slopes or retaining walls will get compound notices of up to RM250,000.

State public works committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the state government had gazetted amendments to the Street, Drainage and Building (Compounding of Offences) By-Laws 1980 under Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974.

He said those caught doing earthworks without approval will be compounded between RM7,500 and RM25,000.

“Those who don’t comply with notices issued by the local authority can be compounded between RM1,500 and RM5,000 for each offence, ” he said.

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