BALIK PULAU: The government’s move to build a RM53mil road linking Kampung Sungai Pinang in the north to Kampung Pulau Betong on the south-western end of the island has got local folks fuming.
Fisherman Wan Mohizan Wan Hussein is one such person. The 52-year-old said the project would threaten Balik Pulau’s image of being “one with nature”.
“It would be better to spend the money on flood mitigation in the area,” he suggested.
“If it rains for two hours straight, there will definitely be flooding. That’s something that should be addressed,” he said.
Wan Mohizan said furthermore, the new road would be built along an existing narrow dirt trail and he felt that prices of land in the vicinity would increase.
“What if developers start coming here and offer to buy Balik Pulau farmland for development? Can we stop them?
“This side of the island is flat and easy to develop. The road can change Balik Pulau,” he said.
Balik Pulau is the “last hinterland” of Penang island, a flat farmland of about 1,000ha with narrow dirt trails.
For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, this land on the island’s rustic eastern side will get a two-way tarred 10.2km road stretching almost the entire north-south length.
But the road construction has left many wondering why this road was being built through mangrove swamps, padi fields, shrimp ponds and oil palm estates.
Another fisherman, Mazlan Sahib, 48, said the new road was unnecessary and it would only welcome over-development.
“There are hardly any residents living there so it doesn’t make sense to have it at all.
“The project might also be a threat to the mangrove swamps along the coast,” he added.
Balik Pulau’s Simpang Empat resident Zainudin Ahad wondered why the government planned to build a new road when the existing Jalan Baru that ran parallel to the new road about 3km away never experienced traffic congestion.
“I thought we need new roads only when existing roads are congested.
“The only traffic jam we get in Balik Pulau is in the town itself.
“There is never any traffic jam in the kampung area, so why give us a new road?” Zainudin questioned.
Kuala Sungai Burung Fishermen’s Association committee member Abd Malik Man, 55, said there was talk about the road project since the Barisan Nasional government.
“We thought that the project would be shelved. I didn’t think the new government would go ahead with it,” he said.
Abd Malik said many residents in the area around the new road were living or farming on government land and their leases might be over soon.
“The government has all the right to develop the land but the long-term impact should be taken into consideration,” he cautioned.
Even Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakthiar Wan Chik was dumbfounded by the new road.
He urged the Rural Development Ministry to look into more pressing areas that need the funds, beginning with flood mitigation, a new hospital and traffic snarls in the heart of Balik Pulau town.
“The new road is not top priority and does not serve much purpose,” he pointed out.
“I hope the ministry will practise stakeholder consultation with the locals and hold town hall meetings to see what the residents want.
“Neither the locals nor me knew that the road project was approved and the construction had begun,” he said.
He also appealed to the ministry to foster entrepreneurial projects for Balik Pulau’s numerous cottage industry products including bedak sejuk (cooling powder, a traditional facial treatment product), nutmeg, otak udang (prawn paste) and salted eggs.