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Jakarta Post

Batang Toru dam will affect orangutans and villagers: Walhi

  • Kharishar Kahfi and Apriadi Gunawan

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta/Medan   /   Fri, September 21, 2018   /   08:04 am
Batang Toru dam will affect orangutans and villagers: Walhi A critically-endangered Tapanuli orangutan is seen with her twin babies in Batang Toru forest in Tapanuli, North Sumatra, last May. (Courtesy of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SCOP) /File)

Activists have slammed a planned Chinese-funded hydroelectric power plant located at the Batang Toru Ecosystem in South Tapanuli regency, North Sumatra, for potentially affecting the livelihood and health of people living around the river.

The project has also been criticized for being a potential “death knell” of the endangered Tapanuli orangutans, as a dam made for the project would flood “a key expanse of the orangutan’s habitat and, even more crucially, [slice] up its remaining forest home with new roads, power lines, tunnels and other built facilities,” activists said.

According to the company responsible for the project, PT North Sumatera Hydro Energy (NSHE), the planned power plant will use "green run-of-river technology" and produce a maximum capacity of 510 megawatts between 6 p.m. and 12 a.m.

Because of the time restriction, the plant would use a relatively small amount of water, which is safer for the environment, the company added.

These claims, however, were dismissed by activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), who said the plant’s limited operational hours would still affect the flow of the entire river.

“This means the operator will need to hold the water for around 18 hours and later release it from the dam along the river for six hours to power the four turbines [in the power plant],” Walhi’s North Sumatra office director, Dana Prima Tarigan, said during a press briefing in Jakarta on Thursday.

Read also: Calls grow for Jokowi to protect Tapanuli orangutan

This could affect the living conditions of villages in at least four districts located downstream of the river, namely Batang Toru, Muara Batangtoru, Angkola Sangkunur and Muara Batang Gadis.

“A disruption in the flow of the river will affect fisheries run by local residents along Batang Toru River. Farmers will also not be able to get water for their fields from the river anymore,” Dana said.

Walhi has also raised concerns that during the six hours of the water being released, the villages around the river would get flooded.

Walhi has filed a lawsuit against the regional administration’s decision to issue permits for the power plant, as their issuance was deemed problematic on account of the lack of discussion and participation involved.

While the project had yet to enter the construction phase, Walhi said the company had conducted several activities around the designated project area, such as preparing necessary heavy machineries during the construction of the power plant.

“We also know they have brought explosives to the area,” Dana said.

According to a letter titled “Notice of Blasting Operations” obtained by Walhi in late July, Synohydro Corporation Limited warned locals not to approach the blasting area as “there will be flying rocks after each explosion”.

“Please cooperate with Syno Hidro and do not endanger yourself or family or friend,” the letter said.

Syno Hydro is the contractor of the dam.

“We demand the judges handling our lawsuit to issue an interlocutory decision to stop such activities from happening, until our suit is final and legally binding,” Dana said.

Previously, the environmental group also criticized the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between NSHE and Medan-based South Sumatra University (USU) on Sept. 11 to accelerate the construction of the power plant.

“We hope USU’s involvement can reveal the impact of the project’s construction to the public rather than cover all of the bad impacts,” Dana said.

NSHE, however, denied Walhi’s accusations, saying the company had obtained all the necessary documents for the project.

“All mitigation studies for any impacts that can be inflicted by the power plant, ranging from environmental to socioeconomic, has been completed by PT NSHE. The company has also made these documents publicly available on our website,” Agus Djoko Ismanto, senior adviser to NSHE, said in a statement.

He added that the company had been voluntarily conducted all the required mitigation efforts as stated in the Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment document.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry had assigned its directorate general of natural resources and ecosystems, Wiratno, to address any objections leveled at the project. Wiratno said on Thursday that his team had been working on the issue.