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Masing: Source of Batang Baleh logjam located at Sungai Mengiong headwaters

0 month ago, 28-Aug-2021

An aerial view of the wood debris along the Batang Baleh near the dam site.

KUCHING (Aug 28): The source of the logjam in Batang Baleh has been identifed as the logging activities area in the headwaters of Sungai Mengiong, said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing.

In a statement last night, he said that Sungai Mengiong is an upstream tributary of the Baleh River and timber extraction has been carried out in one of the most difficult terains in its headwaters.

He added that the areas where logging activities are taking place will be underwater in five years time following the impoundment of the Baleh Hydroelectric Power (HEP) Dam in 2026 while the value of commercial timber to be flooded is about RM300 million.

The timber operators who did the salvage logging (were doing it) on behalf of one of the concessionaires, Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC).

They did the extraction in one of the most difficult terrains in the headwaters of the Batang Baleh. They tried to extract the commercial timber (in the areas) before the impoundment begins in 2026,” he said.

Masing, who is also Baleh assemblyman, had flown to the site yesterday to investigate the source of the wood debris which had caused the massive logjam.

He was accompanied by Hulu Rajang MP Datuk Wilson Ugak Kumbong, Resident of Kapit Division Nyurak Keti, Kapit police chfef DSP Freddy Bian and timber operators in Ulu Sungai Mengiong during the visit.

Apart from the heavy logging, Masing said the recent heavy rain in upper Baleh last week did not help in reducing the erosion.

So what this means is that the wood debris (found on the Baleh River) has nothing to do with shifting cultivation or with the construction of of Baleh HEP Dam.

Baleh Dam is the victim and not the cause of the wood debris. Now we know the cause, let us therefore stop the blame game and move forward and get these commercial timber including other timber of value like Belian out if they are found in Ulu Batang Baleh, before they are submerged.

Masing said Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had suggested to form a body to find ways and means to get the timber out without causing devastating impact on the environment.

So I suggested that the body cant just be Forestry Department Sarawak (FDS) alone. A third party must be involved because if (it is) FDS alone it will not work, because you cant be the judge, the jury and the prosecutor all rolled into one, he added.

On Aug 26, Sarawak Forest Department (SFD) director Datu Hamden Mohammad had said the recent occurrence of massive floating wood debris in the Baleh and Rajang rivers was caused by heavy rain washing down accumulated wood debris at Baleh HEP dam site, which then came out through a diversion channel to enter the Rajang River.

He had said in a statement the cause of the logjam was determined based on ground verification and aerial surveillance conducted by Forest Department Sarawak on Aug 22, together with Natural Resources and Environment Board Sarawak, Sarawak Rivers Board and Sarawak Energy Berhad.

According to him, the government had approved salvage logging activities since 2015 in the area that will be submerged by the Baleh HEP dam.

However, the approved salvage logging activities are subject to full compliance of harvesting rules and regulations, he said.

All the affected timber licensees and contractors are jointly responsible for this incident, especially to clear and remove the debris, he said.

Hamden also said the government has decided to set up a special task force committee under the Ministry of Urban Development and Natural Resources consisting of various government departments and agencies including other stakeholders.

He had said the committee will conduct a thorough investigation on the incident and to find a solution to mitigate the issues.

Sarawak Timber Association (STA) in a statement yesterday was grateful to SFD for confirming that the logjam at Baleh Hydroelectric dam site was caused by the wood debris being pushed into the river by heavy and prolonged rain.

STA thanked SFD and other agencies for carrying out speedy preliminary ground verification and aerial surveillance in connection with the reported logjam.

The statement also said that STA finds it necessary to highlight the difference between salvage logging and selective logging.

Salvage logging is approved to minimise the loss of commercial timber in the area which will be submerged. Salvage logging is only carried out for government approved projects such as development of hydroelectric dams.

It is not a common practice under normal harvesting where selective logging is carried out, and STA wishes to highlight that STA members are using their best endeavours to manage the forests in their concessions in accordance with international standards, added STA.

STA also said they are deeply concerned on the negative portrayal of the forest industry in this incident and the impact it could have on the reputation of the forest industry and its ripple effects resulting in loss of jobs which will affect the livelihood of the people of Sarawak.

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