Sabah moots controversial Papar dam further inland to reduce social, environmental harm

Julia Chan
Anthony said the new site, along the Papar river, is suitable in terms of water quality, environmental and socio-economic sustainability. — Bernama pic

KOTA KINABALU, June 26 — After much debate, the Sabah government has found a new site for the controversial Papar dam that is expected to solve water woes on the west coast with less social and environmental damage.

State Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony said the new site, along the Papar river, is suitable in terms of water quality, environmental and socio-economic sustainability.

“The state government has decided to build the dam along the Papar river, next to Kampung Mandoringin. In the beginning, we had intentions to build a dam bordering Penampang but we decided to shift it to the Papar district because of the water problems in Papar,” he told reporters during a visit to the site here yesterday.

He explained that the previous site would also have resulted in salt water entering the inlet during high tide.

He said the new site — in a remote jungle more than three hours’ drive from the city centre into Ulu Papar — will be able to accommodate a hydroelectricity dam that can produce some 100 kilo-volt-ampere of power, and 1,000 million litres per day of water; enough for the west coast district from Beaufort up to Kota Kinabalu city.

“When we build this dam, districts around here — Kimanis, Beaufort, Putatan, Papar up to Kota Kinabalu — will no longer have problems with water shortage, even as we take in the estimated growth of population and usage,” he said.

Anthony also said that the purpose for the new dam is two-pronged: Not only would it solve the recurring water shortages, it would generate income for the state government in the future too.

“We estimate the cost to be about RM3 billion. Under the previous government, the cost was estimated at around RM2.8 million but with the ability to produce electricity.

“We estimate that in six to seven years, when the dam is completed, we can generate an estimated RM400 to 500 million per year from electricity,” he said.

The construction of the dam would also mean upgrading roads with sealed asphalt, which can benefit communities in the area, he said.

The controversy

Anthony said he was aware of the objections to the dam but believes the new site would not affect many villagers.

The previous proposed Kaiduan dam and its subsequent suggested locations were not supported by villagers who argued that some 2,000 of them would lose their homes and livelihood.

“All throughout the drive here, there was no sight of villagers. But if there are any, we will come up with a plan for resettlement and compensation.

“We understand the objections — especially from this one NGO, Pacos — but we need to prioritise our people’s needs. We need a dam to solve their water shortage. So we know some NGOs are objecting also, but I believe after the proposals this time, it will be good. The people here seem to not have any objections,” Anthony said.

But he added that he is not sure of the area that would be submerged in order to build a dam as the design and studies are still being carried out.

“I believe it’s in the final stages of design now, so we hope we can finalise it within a year or two,” he said.

The state has mooted a mega dam for about a decade now to tackle the state’s water woes, but the previous proposed dam in Kaiduan — also in Ulu Papar — faced a barrage of objections and was scrapped and rebooted several times during the Barisan Nasional administration.

Prior to the May 9 polls in 2018, several of the then Opposition parties had campaigned against the dam and promised the project would be scrapped if they formed government.

However, when the Warisan-led coalition took over the state, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal changed his statement and said his administration is studying the issue while Anthony announced the government planned to a smaller capacity dam in Papar downstream from the Kaiduan dam site in Penampang.

The state proposed two sites, one in Mandalipau and another in Bisuang, but conservationists argued that the new site was just a rebrand of Kaiduan and would also affect the same 2,000 villagers the same way.

Later, Anthony said the previous proposals were unsuitable and came up with this new site.

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