Forest City, a massive land reclamation project built by a Chinese developer and backed by the sultan of Johor state in Malaysia, was initially allowed to begin construction without a detailed environmental impact assessment.Facing public protests, and concern from neighboring Singapore, the government halted the project and required a laundry list of design changes to the city, which is projected to house 700,000 people upon completion.The project is marketed as an eco-friendly “future city,” but has been met with concern by environmentalists. China’s involvement has also caused political problems, including an announcement in August that Malaysia will not allow foreigners to purchase property in the development.This is the final installment in a six-part series on infrastructure development in Peninsular Malaysia. JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia – On Jan. 1, 2014, fishermen near Kampong Pok, a village on Malaysia’s southern shore, were alarmed to find a fleet of barges and dredgers dumping sand on their fishing ground. Up until that moment, they’d heard nothing about land reclamation planned for their neighborhood. Over the next few months, they would begin to learn about the scope of the development scheme planned for this shallow expanse of shellfish beds and seagrass. Country Garden Pacificview, a unit of one of China’s largest real-estate developers, had quietly partnered with the Johor state government and Ibrahim Ismail, the sultan of Johor, to build a “21st century city” on a 19-square-kilometer (7.3-square-mile) man-made island in the Strait of Johor. Village leaders alerted media in Johor Bahru, the state capital. They also contacted reporters in Singapore, located just across the narrow strait. Singapore, which is extremely sensitive to any effort to crowd the waterway dividing the two nations with a new development, and especially without any prior notification, issued a formal request for information. New information quickly emerged. According to local media reports, Country Garden had paid the sultan and the government $55 million and gained the right to purchase and construct the man-made island that would be big enough for a city of tall towers and 700,000 residents. Country Garden disputes the $55 million figure, which was cited by the Malaysian Insider, but “cannot divulge a specific breakdown, as it is bound by business confidentiality obligations,” said company spokesperson Eileen Ho, in an email. The state and the sultan of Johor hold a 34 percent stake in the project, with the latter controlling the bulk of that stake. Country Garden had been allowed to proceed without a detailed environmental impact assessment or any of the required reclamation permits. Johor permitted the project even though the new island would smother sensitive seagrass beds and endanger the Pulai River Mangrove Forest Reserve, one of Malaysia’s largest mangrove ecosystems. In 2003, 91 square kilometers (35 square miles) of the Pulai River mangroves that lie close to the reclamation were classified as a Ramsar site, an international designation to protect wetlands considered globally significant. About half of the first manmade island has been reclaimed from the Strait of Johor. Forest City lies across the strait from Singapore, a city-state highly sensitive to development in the narrow strait that separates it from its much larger northern neighbor. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay. So began the development of Forest City, perhaps the largest mixed-used real-estate project in the world. Country Garden and the state of Johor market the project as a new design for energy-efficient, ecologically sensitive, land-conserving, low-polluting offshore cities of the future. Whatever their grand ambition, Country Garden has been busy for four years trying to clean up the regulatory, political and publicity mess produced by Forest City’s rough start. In June 2014, six months after the fishermen discovered the reclamation, the Malaysian Department of Environment issued a stop work order pending completion of an approved EIA. A month later, Country Garden announced it was downsizing the project by a third, dividing it into four islands, and taking a host of other steps to demonstrate its project would be a showcase of ecological sensitivity. Buildings would be constructed with state-of-the-art, waste-reducing practices, they said. Along with promises to restore mangrove forests and seagrass beds, the company said it would establish new habitats for prawns and fish. In response to concerns about sea-level rise, Country Garden said it was putting all of the built environment on top of huge concrete platforms high above the waters of the strait. It hired respected Malaysian scientists to regularly monitor water quality and restoration projects, and make their findings public. Country Garden also spent $25 million to compensate some 250 fishermen for losses in their catches, and has actively been involved in financially supporting schools and an environmental education program in Kampong Pok. In January 2015, the national government approved the environmental assessment. It required Country Garden to abide by 81 separate ecologically sensitive directives. Two months later, construction resumed.