KOTA KINABALU: The government has been urged to consider alternative alignment for the Pan-Borneo Highway project in Telupid to avoid environmental impact while generating positive ones for surrounding communities.
A group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and research institutions called Coalition Humans Habitats Highways (Coalition 3H), made the call in a statement on Wednesday (June 16).
They suggested two other routes as alternatives to the proposed alignment along the existing Ranau-Sandakan road that can deliver socio-economic benefits without major ecological effects.
The coalition said that the proposed alignment of the Telupid section of the four-lane highway runs through 30km of Bornean elephant range, including blocking their migration paths in the Class I protected Tawai Forest Reserve.
This could potentially result in incidents that harm both people and elephants, which in turn could garner international criticism, they said.
Their report titled "Optimal Routing Options for the Telupid Section of the Pan Borneo Highway", listed two alternative routes to counter the current proposed alignment.
"There were four options: Route 1 as the current proposed alignment which cuts through Tawai Forest Reserve; Route 2 which was the initially planned route along the existing road that will significantly displace current villages.
"Whereas our recommendations - Route 3 is a new proposal that combines the current alignment to maintain the Telupid Town connection, with a northern bypass across the Labuk River to avoid key elephant areas and Tawai Forest Reserve.
"The second new proposal, Route 4 runs entirely north of Labuk avoiding most known elephant range and protected areas," said Coalition 3H.
Routes 3 and 4 by far emerged as the strongest options, they concluded.
"These two routes would help prevent negative impact on the local elephant population as well as other threatened species that live in Tawai Forest Reserve.
"Routes 3 and 4 would also help avoid forest fires, forest encroachment and other environmental risks that are associated with the highway project going through this Class I Protected Area," they added.
In terms of social impact, Route 4 would avoid significant loss of land by indigenous communities there.
Proposed bridges on routes 3 and 4 over Labuk River, are expected to replace busy ferry crossings and with that, deliver major development benefits for palm oil companies and communities isolated north of the river, said Coalition 3H.
They said the state government could carry out engineering and cost studies on either Route 3 or Route 4 to see which is more viable.