KOTA KINABALU: The construction of a bridge that conservationists fear will further harm endangered wildlife in Kinabatangan is set to receive the green light.
The terms of reference for the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been approved by the state Environmental Protection Department, said Sukau assemblyman Datuk Saddi Abdul Rahman.
“We expect the EIA to be approved in a few weeks,” he said recently, adding that the RM223mil project will be carried out over two phases.
The first portion comprises a 100m long bridge spanning Sungai Kinabatangan and the upgrading of existing roads near the Sukau township.
This was supposed to have begun last year but was delayed pending the outcome of the EIA report and for the authorities to hear concerns from conservationists, NGOs and other groups, added Saddi.
He said the Public Works Department (PWD) has allowed the contractor to occupy the construction site from Jan 23.
He added that the contractor has rented and cleared a privately-owned land in the area for the site office and heavy equipment depot.
He said as far as he is aware, the focus of concern among conservationists was the upgrading of an existing road cutting across Lot 1 or one of the segments making up the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) located about 2km from the bridge.
Saddi said that as part of the mitigation measures, the Government has approved the state Wildlife Department’s proposal for the construction of a RM150mil viaduct within Lot 1.
“That will enable wildlife such as elephants to move unhindered along their migratory path,” he added.
He said the bridge will connect five coastal villages with Sukau township where there is a health clinic.
Saddi said there have been at least 10 deaths among villagers of Kampung Tundun Buhangin on an island near Sukau as the settlement is two hours away from the township or Sandakan.
Sickly and even pregnant women from the village experiencing complications have died on the way to Sandakan or to Sukau to seek treatment.
The bridge will cut travelling time to Sukau by about 20 to 25 minutes, he added.
“We are concerned about our wildlife but we also cannot ignore the needs of people there,” said Saddi.
Wildlife research NGO Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens said on Monday that the road that will subsequently be built will cut off the last remaining uninhabited route for elephants near Sukau.