- A new billion-dollar highway and levee project in Central Java has been touted as a solution to the tidal flooding that has submerged thousands of hectares of coastal land in the area.
- But a new study says the project threatens to exacerbate the problem, while communities in its path have been denied compensation by the government.
- The study says the project appears to be designed to cater to two industrial estates, and a third one being planned, to give them direct access to the main port in the province.
- Land subsidence is a major problem along the north coast of Java, due to a combination of overdevelopment, groundwater extraction, and rising sea levels.
JAKARTA — A highway and levee project touted as a solution to coastal flooding in communities along the north coast of Indonesia’s Java Island will shortchange those very communities and benefit manufacturing companies, according to a new study.
Work has begun on the toll road that will run 27 kilometers (17 miles) east from Semarang, the capital of Central Java province, to the district of Demak. The road will include a 10-km (6-mi) section atop a levee on reclaimed land, and is expected to cut the travel time from one hour at present to 25 minutes. The 15.3 trillion rupiah ($1 billion) project is part of a slate of nationally strategic infrastructure programs.
The project is also expected to prevent tidal flooding in the area, where decades of development have cause the land to sink, in some places below sea level, affecting more than 6,800 hectares (16,800 acres) of land. Land subsidence is a major problem along Java’s north coast, including in the capital, Jakarta.
But the new project could end up having the opposite effect, exacerbating land subsidence and leading to an increase in flooding, according to the findings from an interdisciplinary study carried out between August 2019 and February this year.
“This project will bring forth all kinds of environmental injustice,” said Hotmauli Sidabalok, a legal expert at Soegijapranata Catholic University in Semarang and one of the researchers behind the study that was published April 6.
The researchers say the land reclamation required to build the levee will alter coastal currents in the area, impacting local fishermen. They also cite what they call key omissions from the project developer’s environmental impact assessment, such as a comprehensive public consultation and details about where the construction material for the road and levee will be quarried from.
The project’s concession covers almost 540 hectares (1,330 acres) of land, much of it public. The government awarded the contract in September last year to a consortium that includes state-owned construction companies PT Pembangunan Perumahan and PT Wijaya Karya, and private developer PT Misi Mulia Metrical.
Work on the project has been held up because land acquisition is not yet complete. The main snag is that the government refuses to pay compensation to many of the landowners, arguing that because some of the area has become permanently submerged by the sea, it no longer constitutes land. That means that even residents with legal title to the land aren’t eligible for compensation, according to the provincial government.
The biggest beneficiaries, the new study says, will be the industrial estates in the region.
The researchers say the project appears to have been designed ultimately to connect the Kendal Industrial Zone and Jateng Industrial Park Sayung with the capital Semarang, home to the province’s main port.
The Kendal Industrial Zone, west of Semarang, is the province’s biggest development project, spanning 2,200 hectares (5,400 acres) and owned by Jakarta-listed developer PT Jababeka and Singapore-listed Sembcrop Development. Jateng Industrial Park Sayung, in Demak, is much smaller, at 300 hectares (740 acres), and is operated by PT Jawa Tengah Lahan Andalan, a subsidiary of property conglomerate Mugan Group.
Another potential beneficiary of the project is an industrial park and housing estate planned for construction near the Semarang section of the highway. The developer of that site is PT Pembangunan Perumahan, one of the co-developers of the Semarang-Demak highway.
These industrial estates will eventually have quick access to Semarang’s Tanjung Emas Port via a planned toll road linking directly to the Semarang Demak highway. Indonesia’s public works minister announced the Semarang Harbour Toll project last month. Construction is expected to begin next year and end in 2023, at a total cost of 22 trillion rupiah ($1.5 billion) for the 21-km (13-mi) toll road.
The researchers behind the new study say the government should put these plans on hold for now and use the money for more pressing issues.
“We’re calling on the government to reallocate the funds for infrastructure projects like the Semarang-Demak highway-levee for humanitarian funds to resolve COVID-19,” Hotmauli said.
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