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Farewell To Taman Rimba Ampang As It Makes Way For Controversial New Highways

Taman Rimba Ampang is one of those hidden gems in the city.

Nestled at the end of Jalan Ampang, down from the Petronas Twin Towers, it is about the only cooling place left, with a clear river where families can go and swim and have a picnic, in the city centre.

Plus, it is just a short car ride away, compared to Sungai Gabai or Sungai Chilling, which is quite a ways from Kuala Lumpur.

Heading down there, we surveyed the pristine area, where the river flows right next to the road - a river that's just beside it, making it convenient for many people who cannot hike reach places.

It is a perfect spot for a quick runaway within the city what with its serene atmosphere and clean air from the moment you enter the area.

We saw families swimming around on a makeshift swing as well as having feasts along the river stretch.

On a weekend, around 400-500 people throng the cold river on a hot day, making for a cooling, refreshing experience.

Joggers and cyclists were seen passing through the area from the edge of Ampang, into the park. And surprisingly, a few backpackers from abroad were also among its visitors.

In 2006, major floods that rose nearly 20 metres tall damaged a few of the man-made marble tables and chairs on the embankments of which until today has not been repaired, leaving ruins in its embankments.

But still, that has not deterred Malaysians and tourists from finding a unique place to sit by or on the river to enjoy a splash or a snack.

Alas, this green and blue jewel in the city will lose its charm as the construction of a new highway is threatening to deforest the protected reserve, as well as polluting the river water quality, noise ambiance, with an increase in air pollution levels once the highway is constructed.

The highway in question has been identified as East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE), a new 39.5-kilometre-long expressway that will connect Ukay Perdana in Ampang, Selangor and Bandar Sungai Long in Kajang - which will cut through Taman Rimba Ampang of the Ampang Forest Reserve.

The forest reserve is part of the Selangor State Park, gazetted in 2005, in conjunction with its Developed State status.

It was gazetted as Rank 1 Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) under the National Physical Plan and accorded the highest status of protection.

However, the Selangor Forestry Department, in February 2014, announced a proposal to de-gazette 106.65ha of the Ampang Forest Reserve for the construction of EKVE.

As of now, Taman Rimba Ampang is closed to the public since January 5, to enable construction of the new highway, though many visitors are unaware that the park was to be closed for three years until its reopening in May 2019.

In Malaysian Digest’s investigation, we spoke with people in the know, who deemed the project illegal and harmful.

Groundworks Have Begun Despite A Court Order

The river begins where the Puncak Niaga Water Treatment Plant at the edge of Taman Rimba Ampang's main road.

The water is cleaner from up here, and we spoke with our source who works at the Puncak Niaga water catchment and treatment plant, who showed where the imaginary expressway will be built.

From our observations, the hills and forests will have to be cut down, and the pillars will be built on the river itself as the highway will cross the stream. Our source confirms this.

"They (highway builders) are not following safety procedures because this is extremely unsafe.

"If they build the highway, they will have to build it across the river, and the land around rivers are soft and unstable.

"The pillars will dig into the river, and if that is done, there will not be any water.

"This highway reaches all the way to Gombak, and it is a recreational park that is protected under law.

“This is also the last of the rivers in the city where people can go and swim,” the source lamented.

He added that the water in the river is cleaned by the water catchment plant but once construction begins, it will be a river of mud.

"You can't swim with all the mud from the construction, and even though the park will reopen, the water clarity will never be the same again.

"And with the pillars, there will be least water flow as well," he said.

Besides, how is one to swim when there is a highway with zooming cars right above your head?

"This is the last bit of Selangor with a river where you can swim! This is the little of what's left of nature.

"This is also part of the Titiwangsa Mountains range that forms the backbone of the Malay Peninsula all the way from Southern Thailand – which is a historical site as it is one of the longest mountain ranges in the world," he pointed out.

The source also informed us that the project by the Selangor State Government is on halt by court order - but it appears that construction still continues.

The court order was granted to three environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who seek to nullify the authorisation - by the Selangor Forestry Department and co-respondents of Ampang Jaya Municipal Council and the Selangor State Government - for the construction works and related logging in the Ampang Forest Reserve.

The NGO groups detailed that the biological diversity of the park will affect the unique habitat for endangered animals like tigers, tapirs, Malayan sun bears, leopards and Sumatran serows (species of goat-antelope) as well as affect dam integrity and safety, negatively impacting eco-tourism, and cause deforestation which could lead to microclimate change, on top of risking the key water catchment area and pollute the water source.

"We have surveyed five to six kilometres upstream, they have placed signs, set up construction sites and measuring devices along the river bank," the source revealed.

"What's most regrettable is that this forest will be cut, and once that happens the water flow will be disrupted,” he shared.

He believes the water quality will not be the same and has a feeling that the water catchment plant will also be forced to close, adding to the already existing water crisis as many homes around the area do lack water once in a while.

“Behind the quarters near the entrance, the hill there has already been pushed. I asked the Selangor Forestry Department about it and they said it hasn't been approved of yet.

"The only way to get this right is to get more people to complain. The people from the villages around here have done so, and we hope more complaints will redirect the path of the highway.

“If not, then the only person left to go to is the Menteri Besar of Selangor,” the source further explained.

He tells us that previously, the Ampang City Council took care of reserve, where there were stalls before, but their departure has made the place less attractive. And now that it is under the Forestry Department, they have failed to beautify the place.

He then pointed us to the organiser rallying in protest of new highways in the area.

NGOs Are Protesting But It's Still Not Enough

Muhammad Agos Abul Hasan Ashari is the Taman Bukit Ampang Resident Associations (RA) President and Chairman of the "Say No To SUKE Highway" (SNTS) coalition, which is a consolidation of concerned groups of RA objecting to the alignment of the Sungai Besi Ulu Kelang Elevated Expressway.

The Sungai Besi Ulu Kelang Elevated Expressway (SUKE) is a 24.4km, three-lane, dual-carriageway, elevated monstrosity running from Sri Petaling to Ulu Kelang. It has 14 interchanges and displaces multiple residential and commercial communities which date back to the early 1950s.

Combined, Agos says that the RA's strength number around 20,000 strong and that the project had violated laws and human rights.

"We have obtained a court order to stop any further construction on the highway but it’s still ongoing by the Selangor Government despite the current court order," Agos told Malaysian Digest.

On the human rights side, Agos explains that one is entitled to fully understand the impact on their livelihood and the area, and this exercise has not yet been taken place.

"On the environmental prospect, one issue that will resonate with the public most is the air quality.

“After the SUKE Highway is completed, the air quality will deteriorate to 150 API, equivalent to the air quality when all the schools were closed. It is the expected and standard API for a highway," he tells us.

Agos added that for Taman Rimba Ampang, it is affected by the EKVE, where 100 acres of first reserve will be taken, where it is a Rank 1 environmentally sensitive area. Plus, it is also a water catchment area.

"This will impact the water supply to Taman Kosas, Bukit Ampang and surrounding areas and this will worsen the water shortage that we have as all this residential areas and will have to get their water supply from somewhere else.

“As it is, they are already at short supply," he stressed.

Agos reaffirmed that the EKVE construction work was still ongoing despite the court order, and cited The Edge reporting the EKVE publicly declaring they will continue their work.

"The question on everyone's mind is what else can be done?

"We've done everything, from police reports to court orders, and the state government has ignored all this, and no one else is taking action against them.

"Where else can the residents go and complain to?

"The Selangor Government does not care because they will say it’s something that can be replaced. Even if they gazette forest land, they can always de-gazette it like wgat they've done for Taman Rimba Ampang for EKVE and SUKE highway.

“Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Azmin Ali and Elizabeth Wong, the environmental Exco for Selangor, will both say they will replace the gazetted land with someplace else,” he said venting his frustrations.

Agos also said logging works have started for the highway projects, and trees had been felled, with roughly 80 per cent completed.

"Compensation for SUKE Highway has also been paid for, it’s a forced land acquisition and cannot be challenged,” he revealed.

The Chairman goes on to say, “If KIDEX in Petaling Jaya could be successfully stopped by the residents, why can't SUKE and EKVE to preserve Taman Rimba Ampang?

“The main problem we are faced with is not many are willing to attend our numerous gatherings, despite thousands of residents.”

A Hiker Protests

Sunrise Sayli, or just Sayli, is an avid hiker and amateur eco-activist who has been campaigning for action to be taken.

“It has come to my understanding that compensation has been credited to Ampang and Sungai Long Hulu Langat house owners' bank account.

“This means that the SUKE highway is expected to proceed in August and the house owners are to move out by then.

“To some owners whose houses are not compensated because the highway is not going through their house, they believe that their property value would increase.

“But how can a highway increase property value? Only tourism and business can do that.

“The highway is destroying the beauty of the land. Look at Shah Alam, Putrajaya and Bukit Jalil. There aren’t much forests left, with only ugly and not-so-green parks.

“My dream is that Malaysia sustain itself as a top tourism destination for rich culture of history and food, most importantly its old rainforests, crystal clear waterfalls and wildlife," she declared.

And if people in Selangor and Ampang do not realise what is happening, say goodbye to Taman Rimba Ampang as highways are all that will be left for future generations.

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Update: 

In a separate statement dated 12 July 2016, EKVE Sdn. Bhd. further updated its earlier media statement to address several matters pertaining to the issues raised in the article above. Tn. Hj. Mohd Khalid Hj. Mohamed, Senior General Manager of EKVE Sdn. Bhd. has issued the following statement incorporating results of their recent survey as well as clarification on the Taman Rimba Ampang.

"In view of the recent news and proceedings involving the East Klang Valley Expressway or EKVE, the EKVE Sdn. Bhd. would like to officially address several matters which require the attention of stakeholders.

"In line with our beliefs to be a responsible expressway developer, we have had, and continue to have close interactions with the residents living nearby Taman Rimba Ampang. Our interactions are in the form of regular face-to-face updates to the residents. We are especially grateful by the level of support that they have shown for our project and our constant communication. EKVE strictly ensures that we are the touch points, communicating the progress of the development to the residents.

"As part of our approvals process, we had conducted a public opinion survey of which the results showed a strong level of support with more than 86.8 percent in favour of the expressway. We remain and will continuously be cooperative, keeping close to the local community’s initiatives, by ensuring their requests are met and concerns addressed.

"In the pipeline, we will be involving various stakeholders of the projects including the media to be part of our initiatives in ensuring transparency and credibility in the workflow of EKVE. We are also working on programmes to further address and act as comprehensive solutions towards issues that are brought into attention by other direct stakeholders of EKVE. These initiatives will be announced in due time.

"EKVE also wishes to state that Taman Rimba Ampang has never been closed to visitors and is still open to recreational use.

"The Expressway traverses along the edge of Taman Rimba Ampang and as such no closure is strictly necessary to facilitate the construction of EKVE. EKVE Sdn Bhd has thoroughly ensured that all planning and works are done with the highest quality controls in mind, and based on approved development plans by the relevant authorities.

"As part of our CSR effort, we have proposed to the State Authorities to upgrade Taman Rimba Ampang, totally borne by us. At present, the condition of Taman Rimba Ampang has reached a state where it is inconvenient for those wishing to enjoy facilities and its beauty. With respect to construction works, our present works programme does not entail nor require the closure of Taman‎ Rimba Ampang.

"EKVE Sdn Bhd wishes to thank all our key stakeholders for their support and concerns. We also wish to reassure that the development strictly adheres to regulations that have been set out in order to provide viable long term benefits and solution to the residents of the area and future users of the expressway."

mD