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Save Gurney Drive, Save Pulau Pinang !

So reads a banner held by five DAP men, including three elected representatives, that was taken at the famous Gurney Drive promenade to oppose the reclamation for the Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase Two (STP2) project back in 2007.

The three were Tanjong member of parliament Ng Wei Aik, Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Lau Keng Ee and Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu.

The identities of the other two could not be ascertained. The photograph has been making its rounds recently after the DAP-led state government unveiled plans for a new seafront public park, known as Gurney Wharf, on reclaimed land.

The project will include an eight-lane expressway that will connect with the proposed Penang island link at the north side of the beach and with the north coast highway as well as the proposed undersea tunnel project at the south, all of which are components of the state’s ambitious Transport Master Plan (TMP).

There have been claims that the project is nothing more than a makeover of the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project, mooted by the former Barisan Nasional administration, which DAP had strongly opposed then.

The only difference now is the addition of the undersea tunnel and the reclamation of the islands. During the state DAP annual general meeting in 2005, the party had opposed PORR and Butterworth Outer Ring Road.

Its Batu Lanchang assemblyman Law Heng Kiang had moved a motion to object PORR, which had garnered support from two MCA state representatives, who abstained from voting at the state assembly sitting.

 And lest we forget what then Tanjong member of parliament, Chow Kon Yeow, who is the current state local government committee chairman, told Sin Chew Daily in 2007, that the outer ring roads would not solve traffic congestion, a sentiment which was echoed by Ng.

 Ironically, the DAP-led administration is now the executor of the TMP. Just to re-cap, PORR was first announced in 2002. It entailed the construction of an 18km toll highway cutting across the island from Tanjung Tokong to the Penang Bridge in Gelugor.

 Civil society groups and affected communities, who had formed the No-PORR committee, had called on the government to scrap the project because the environmental repercussions of the project were potentially disastrous, involving hill-cutting and coastal reclamation.

Since news of the reclamation and Gurney Wharf surfaced, many Penangites have taken to social media to re-kindle their memories of yesteryear’s Gurney Drive. 

They recalled how they used to play along the sandy beaches, waited for the full moon to catch horseshoe crabs and many others as well, as they thronged the pasar malam from the Gurney Drive roundabout all the way to the now Gurney Paragon mall.

In fact, for many, Gurney Drive used to be their “playground”. A public exhibition on the waterfront project ended yesterday. At the time of writing, hundreds of feedback had been received.

One wonders if any of the DAP strongmen mentioned above had registered their protest against the reclamation, as well as the TMP. After all, it is one and the same thing — irrespective of then or now.

All I know is Teh, known for his green credentials, had voiced his reservations openly. He is, after all, one of the few men with principles left in the party when it concerns the environment.

 Yes, and this is the same Teh who voted in support of an Umno-mooted motion on land reclamation during the last state assembly sitting.

 What about the long list of Penangites who used to call Gurney Drive their playground? Have you played your part to make your voices heard?

 Are you in support of the reclamation to make way for the Gurney Wharf project and even the road projects?

What will happen to these feedback? Is it just a public relations exercise? Will the authorities seriously consider the concerns raised?

 There have been calls for the project to be halted pending more details. Are the authorities willing to listen to such pleas? 

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Sustainability Studies director Professor Dr Kamarulazizi Ibrahimtold the New Straits Times that he did not want the developer to carry out the project hastily.

 He lamented that details of the development were sketchy and that he was certain the environment would take a toll if the project proceeded. He suggested more impact studies be conducted before the go-ahead.

 Even civil society group, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), had voiced its opposition towards the reclamation project, citing that work to create a park would cause devastating impact to Mother Nature.

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said although it welcomed the rehabilitation of Gurney Drive’s foreshore and creation of parks for more greenery, which I personally agreed, it should not be done in this manner.

As for now, Penangites only know about the Gurney Wharf project. What other components are there on the reclaimed land?

As a state government that advocates transparency, shouldn’t Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s administration be more open about the whole plan?

Also, what happened to the “Save Gurney Drive, Save Our Environment!” campaign then? Why not introduce the same campaign now?

Why the double standards?

With 131 acres along Gurney Drive’s foreshore to be reclaimed, it is bound to adversely affect the ecological environment and sea life in the surrounding areas.

 As such, speak now or forever hold your peace.

- Audrey Dermawan is NST’s Penang bureau chief. She enjoys the sun, the sea and the sand, from which she draws her inspiration.
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