Sarawak govt forms special task force to probe Baleh river logjam, says state Forest Dept

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The logjam along the Baleh River, August 22, 2022. — Picture courtesy of the Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri James Masing’s Office
The logjam along the Baleh River, August 22, 2022. — Picture courtesy of the Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri James Masing’s Office

KUCHING, Aug 26 — Sarawak Forest Department director Datuk Hamden Mohammad today said that the state government has set up a special task force, led by the ministry of urban development and natural resources, to conduct a thorough investigation on the causes of the massive logjam and floating debris along Baleh River and Rajang River.

He said the task force consisting of the various government departments and agencies will determine what caused the logjam and floating debris to find a solution to the problem.

“The department will tighten their monitoring measures to ensure that there is no recurrence of such incident in the future,” he said in a response to statements by Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri James Masing and Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) on the issue.

Hamden said the incident of floating wood debris along the two rivers has attracted a lot of attention from the public, adding that the state government is equally concerned about the impact not only on the environment but also the livelihood of the people along the river.

“Based on ground verification and aerial surveillance conducted by the Forest Department, the Natural Resources Environment Board (NREB) and Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) the incident was caused by the accumulation of wood debris at Baleh dam site and then came out through diversion channel to enter the Rajang River.

“An extreme heavy downpour of more than 100mm on August 21 triggered the movement of the debris and the massive surface run-off.

“However, the situation subsided after the rain stopped in the upper Baleh area,” he added.

Hamden said the state government has approved salvage logging activities since 2015 in the area that will be submerged once the Baleh dam is operational in 2026, adding that the approved salvage logging activities are subject to full compliance of harvesting rules and regulations.

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

On August 22, Masing, who is also Baleh state assemblyman, blamed irresponsible timber companies for causing a massive logjam along Baleh River in Kapit Division.

He urged authorities to stop renewing licenses of these companies operating in the upper reaches of Baleh River.

He said the tree trunks and branches from the logging activities, which were washed into the river, have caused another long logjam.

He added the first massive logjam occurred 10 years ago.

On August 23, SEB flatly rejected claims that the logjam and floating debris along the stretch of Baleh river in Kapit Division were caused by site clearing works from the Baleh dam.

It said its onsite team has conducted land, river and aerial drone surveillance following reports of the mass accumulation of timber and other natural debris in the river, to verify the source of the floating debris.

“From the initial assessment, it has been concluded that the source of the debris is more than 1.5km upstream of the diversion tunnels inlet portal,” SEB said.

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