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Jakarta Post

Plant development in Aceh's Leuser ecosystem may be scrapped after court ruling

  • Apriadi Gunawan

    The Jakarta Post

Medan, North Sumatra   /   Fri, January 10, 2020   /   04:55 pm
Plant development in Aceh's Leuser ecosystem may be scrapped after court ruling A burned patch of forest scars the landscape at the Leuser Ecosystem Zone in East Aceh, Aceh province, on March 21. From 2014 to 2015, 13,700 hectares of the forest were damaged, according to data from the Leuser Conservation Forum. (Antara/Syifa Yulinnas)

Plans to build a hydropower plant (PLTA) with a capacity of 443 megawatts (MW) in the Leuser ecosystem zone in Gayo Lues regency, Aceh province, may be scrapped after the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) triumphed in a lawsuit seeking to prevent construction.

The group filed the lawsuit last year to oppose Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah's decision to issue a forest area utilization permit, which would allow foreign capital investor PT Kamirzu to build the Tampur hydropower plant in the Leuser ecosystem. The ecosystem is a UNESCO world heritage site that covers thousands of hectares of protected forests throughout Aceh and North Sumatra.

The Banda Aceh State Administrative Court (PTUN Banda Aceh) ruled in favor of WALHI in August 2019 but Zaini appealed to the Medan State Administrative High Court (PTTUN Medan) in North Sumatra.

The higher court upheld the ruling on Tuesday, thereby annulling the permit.

Aceh Governor Zaini issued the permit on June 9, 2017. It allowed the use of 4,407 hectares of the ecosystem for the plant’s construction. PT Kamirzu planned to build a 193.5-meter-high plant containing about 697.4 million cubic meters of water.

Walhi Aceh lawyer Jehalim Bangun said the group appreciated PTTUN Medan's ruling, adding that the win was proof that Zaini's permit issuance was problematic.

Jehalim expressed hope that all parties concerned would accept the ruling, including the Aceh governor himself, as he raised concerns that the Tampur hydropower plant could submerge 4,000 hectares of forest area, 75 homes in the nearby Lesten village and could threaten critically endangered animals such as the Sumatran tiger and elephant.

"We hope that there won't be any more legal challenges following PTTUN Medan's decision because the higher court's ruling has had a great impact on the lives of Acehnese people," Jehalim told reporters at the high court on Thursday.

Mount Leuser National Park administration division head Joko Iswanto said he had not heard about the ruling but nevertheless appreciated the decision, even though he said the plant would not be built in the national park.

"The plant development plan doesn't include areas in Mount Leuser National Park but [only] in the Leuser ecosystem zone, of which the national park is part," Joko told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

He said no plants should be built in the national park given its status as a protected forest, a designation that requires it to be strictly guarded to preserve habitats in the area.