Hold EIA reviews with villagers over Kudat silica sand mining project, Sabah govt told


Local NGOs found that dark water was overflowing from the mainland to the beach during their fact-finding mission to Sikuati, Kudat. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

KOTA KINABALU: An indigenous rights activist has called on the Sabah Environment Protection Department (EPD) to make public the environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports for the RM2bil silica sand mining operation in the northern Kudat district, some 130km from here.

Adrian Lasimbang said local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as residents from the five villages affected by the China-based Kibing Group's project have been asking for the EIAs.

He said that while he had received copies of two EIA reports on the project’s silica sand mining, processing plant and bulk jetty at the proposed site in Sikuati, he was neither sure if they were authentic nor the final reports.

The Pertubuhan Suara Anak Sabah (Sabah Native Voices Organisation) president said there were many issues highlighted by NGOs over the project.

“We want to see if our concerns were included in the reports and if the conditions given by the NGOs were fulfilled by the company,” he said when contacted on Sunday (Feb 25).

The dark water on the white sandy beach. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)The dark water on the white sandy beach. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

“The villagers are also anxious because they are facing many issues because of the project, one of them mainly to do with not having access to Bangau beach where many earn their living from,” Lasimbang added.

He said the EIAs should be made accessible on the EPD website, especially for the convenience of the villagers who live in Kudat.

“I suggest that EPD conduct a consultation meeting with the villagers on the EIA review for better transparency,” he said.

In August 2022, residents from five villages in Sikuati, about 14.5km from Kudat town, held a small protest to voice their concerns that the silica sand mining and processing project will bring environmental harm to the idyllic Bangau beach as well as the surroundings near their villages.

A member of a local NGO pouring a sample of the dark water back into the stream. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)A member of a local NGO pouring a sample of the dark water back into the stream. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

The residents from Kampung Bangau, Andab Bangau, Andab Darat, Kimihang and Longgom Kecil had urged the Sabah government to intervene and put a stop to the project.

Mohd Mazza Azat - a member of the action committee formed to object to the project then - had said the villagers depended on the beach and sea for their income as many of them were fishermen.

He said the area was also a valued tourist destination for Kudat as it was considered a hidden beach.

In June last year, EPD director Vitalis Moduying said the processing plant had started construction and that every phase of the project was being assessed.

Adrian Lasimbang was part of the fact-finding mission to Sikuati. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)Adrian Lasimbang was part of the fact-finding mission to Sikuati. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

He said a total of four EIA reports had been presented to the department, two for the processing plant at Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park and two for the Sikuati mining site and added that the developers have complied with all regulatory requirements then.

Sabah Industrial Development and Entrepreneurship Minister Datuk Phoong Jin Zhe had in May last year also said all environmental concerns raised by villagers about the project have been recorded in the EIA study.

However, Lasimbang said that they found out the villagers are still troubled by the development near the beach and their villages.

He added that NGOs under the Indigenous People Network Malaysia (Joas) discovered this during a visit to the beach and in a dialogue with the villagers during a fact-finding mission on Feb 10.

The villagers having a dialogue with members of the Indigenous People Network Malaysia. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)The villagers having a dialogue with members of the Indigenous People Network Malaysia. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

“The villagers are worried over a stream that has emerged, with dark water flowing into the beach.I think there was an explanation over the situation previously, including by the Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa), that the water was not polluted.

“But for me, open discharge to the sea, even if there were no toxins, especially when it is an unnatural flow can still affect the ecosystem,” Lasimbang said.

He added there was a mangrove swamp in the area which has a natural system where the water flow was controlled by the tide but that the water would never flow into the sea.

Lasimbang then said that satellite images of the beach from 2006 to 2020 showed the stream of dark water was not there but a 2023 image showed it had already emerged.

A sign put up by villagers on Bangau beach voicing out they were not intruders but pointing out it was an ancestral area for foraging. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)A sign put up by villagers on Bangau beach voicing out they were not intruders but pointing out it was an ancestral area for foraging. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

“Environmental NGOs should speak up about such issues,” he said.

Lasimbang then said that the villagers were not disputing the land because it was privately owned but they are disturbed that they may never have access to the beach again.

“They used to fish and search for molluscs and crabs but when you fence off the access, then they are worried.

“This is a foraging area and indigenous people have the right to use it under customary rights,” Lasimbang said, adding women folk at the villagers were also concerned about safety due to many unknown people seen there following the project.

Another concerning issue, he said, was whether the EIAs on the mining and operation took into account that Bangau beach was part of the marine biodiversity rich Tun Mustapha Park (TMP).

Satellite image of Bangau beach from 2020 which showed no stream of dark water flowing into the sea. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)Satellite image of Bangau beach from 2020 which showed no stream of dark water flowing into the sea. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

“This is a Totally Protected Area (TTP), so the effects by the project on it must be accounted for,” he said.

In July last year, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew said that initial finding by the EPD was that the dark water had overflowed from a natural pond outside the mining area into the white sand beach and sea due to heavy rain.

According to the department, the “dark water” may be a normal characteristic of the water in that particular area because of the soil type and its proximity to the mangrove area.

"I was informed by the EPD director that this is the natural colour of the water even before the sand mining project started. However, the EPD will further investigate the situation," Liew had said.

Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) president Alexander Yee said that they were also informed about the possible pollution at the beach.

Satellite image of Bangau beach from 2023 that shows the stream of dark water next to the jetty. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)Satellite image of Bangau beach from 2023 that shows the stream of dark water next to the jetty. (Photo courtersy of Adrian Lasimbang)

He said that environmental groups in the area had also checked on the alleged “pollution” and found that it was naturally occurring and nothing to do with the mining operations.

WWF-Malaysia had previously cautioned the state to tread carefully in developing the area, saying the silica sand mining project will have a negative impact on surrounding communities.

This was because the processing site will produce fine silica dust particles known to be hazardous to the human body with long-term exposure, the environmental watchdog group said.

The Sikuati coastal area includes part of the Kudat and Marudu Bay Class V Mangrove Forest in the north, adjacent to TMP’s preservation zone.

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