KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Environment Protection Department yesterday denied the Sabah Environment Protection Association’s (SEPA) claim that the shrimp aquaculture development project in Pitas has been allowed to continue without any legal action by the authorities even though it does not have Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) approval.
Its director, Datuk Yabi Yangkat, said in a statement yesterday that the claim made by Lanash Thanda, the president of SEPA, was not true.
He was responding to Lanash’s allegation which was published in local newspapers on January 12 pertaining to the issue of mangrove destruction at the Shrimp Aquaculture Project at Sungai Telaga, Pitas, a joint venture project between Sunlight Inno Seafood Sdn Bhd and Inno Fisheries Sdn Bhd under the Yayasan Sabah Group, which she claimed did not have an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
Yabi then explained the status of the EIA report for the project.
He said that the Term of Reference (TOR) for the EIA Study of the Aquaculture Project was prepared by DHI Water & Environmental Consultant (M) Sdn Bhd and was submitted to EPD on May 21, 2013. It was approved on July 10, 2013.
The EIA report was submitted to EPD on April 29, 2014.
He said that the report was tabled and discussed in the EIA Review Panel meeting on June 5, 2014.
The panel consisted of relevant government departments/agencies such as Land and Survey Department, Sabah Fisheries Department, Sabah Forestry Department, Drainage and Irrigation Department, Pitas District Office, Pitas District Council, Sabah Biodiversity Centre and Town and Regional Planning Department as well as NGOs, including SEPA.
“The Review Panel unanimously made a decision not to approve the EIA Report due to lack of some important facts and information. The decision was made to enable the project proponent, through their appointed EIA consultant, to submit additional information.”
The additional information was submitted to EPD on June 24, 2014 and the EPD found the issues and concerns by members of the EIA Review Panel have been satisfactorily explained and addressed, the information given was sufficient and the proposed mitigation measures and monitoring programme were updated and found to be appropriate, realistic and sufficient for EPD to formulate the Agreement of Environmental Conditions.
Hence, the EIA Report was approved on December 19, 2014.
The conditions for the project, among others included mitigation measures for wildlife corridor, riparian reserve, mangrove buffer zone and rehabilitation of certain disturbed mangrove areas, he explained.
Thus, the claim made by Lanash who alleged that the project has been allowed to continue without any legal action by the authorities even though it did not receive any EIA approval was incorrect, said Yabi.
He also strongly denied the allegation that the relevant authorities had failed to enforce their respective law because EPD had compounded the project proponent on August 1, 2013 with an amount of RM30,000 as they have commenced the shrimp project before the approval of the EIA report.
He said that prior to the approval of the EIA, EPD together with the local villagers had carried out repeated inspection visits to the project area to ensure that no more new mangrove areas were cleared.
“Since the EIA Report for the shrimp aquaculture project has been approved by EPD, any mangrove clearing activities within the project boundary are considered legal activity. No action will be taken against the project proponent unless they contravene the agreed and specified environmental conditions,” he said.
Yabi added that besides EIA approval conditions, the Land and Survey Department had also stated a special terms and conditions in the land approval conditions which included the provision of a 100-meter riparian zone.
The violation of this specific condition is an offence under the Sabah Land Ordinance (Cap. 68).
At the same time, he also said that EPD was fully aware of the environmental sensitivity of the project and the public concerns.
“EPD will monitor the compliance level of the project proponent to the EIA approval conditions. EPD may also initiate a special coordination meeting with other relevant departments to ensure the project conforms to all the government laws and requirements.”