Sand mining in the waters off the southern tip of Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island has been put on hold by the provincial government after multiple ferocious rejections from locals who seek to protect their livelihoods and the environment.
The sand is slated for the creation of five artificial islands covering 157.23 hectares (0.6 square miles) off the coast of the South Sulawesi’s provincial capital, Makassar — an area that’s been named Centre Point of Indonesia.
The new islands are estimated to use about 22 million cubic meters (777 million cubic feet) of sand and gravel mined both on- and off-shore in the nearby Gowa and Takalar districts.
Area fishermen fear the sand mining could damage fish stocks, and complain it’s unfair to allow industrial-scale offshore mining when fishers face harsh penalties if they engage in destructive practices like dynamite fishing.
The land-reclamation scheme is also facing a lawsuit from environment activists who allege the project was launched before all the necessary permits were in place.
In recent months, the dispute over the project has reached fever pitch, with opponents threatening to torch dredging ships and take officials hostage.
We can’t halt [the operation] just like that. However, we will suspend all ongoing activities for now and will handle the next steps.
Andi Hasbi, head, South Sulawesi’s environmental management office
Meanwhile, proponents of the project see it as a push for regional infrastructure development in South Sulawesi, which posted 7.41 per cent economic growth in 2016 compared to the country’s 5.02 per cent.
South Sulawesi Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo has said the project, which is in the shape of a garuda — the Hindu mythical bird that is the country’s national symbol — will become a new “prestigious landmark” for Indonesia and increase Makassar’s public space by 80 per cent.
The governor has also said the development is expected to mitigate mud sedimentation along the Makassar coast.
Grassroots resistance grows
The suspension of sand mining was announced after a June 22 meeting between regional officials and scores of people from four subdistricts — Galesong, Sanrobone, North and South Galesong — in the Takalar district of South Sulawesi province who called for the termination of all sand extraction operations for the Centre Point project.
The meeting heated up as protesters threatened to take officials hostage if they declined to give in to the people’s demands.
“We can’t halt [the operation] just like that,” said Andi Hasbi, head of the South Sulawesi’s environmental management office. “However, we will suspend all ongoing activities for now and will handle the next steps.”
The uproar at the June 22 meeting followed a string of confrontations between local fishers and the dredging ships that are set to gradually dig out sand from 1,000 hectares (3.86 square miles) of seafloor.
The first incident was reported on May 9 when fishermen from North Galesong hijacked and threatened to torch Singaporean-flagged sand mining boat KM Bulan.
The vessel was collecting samples for PT Boskalis International Indonesia, a local arm of Netherlands-based Royal Boskalis Westminster, which has been hired with a contract valued at 80 million euros to execute land reclamation activities.
The boat was released the following morning after complex negotiations involving the local police and a village head who was forced to sign a statement opposing the sand mining activity.
In the meantime, the community staged protests in Makassar and submitted official letters opposing the sand mining operation to several state institutions, including the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and the Corruption Eradication Commission.
Their resistance grew more intense on June 15 when an even larger dredging ship was spotted mining sand in the waters off the Galesong and Sanrobone subdistricts. The ship, named Fairway, is Cyprus-flagged but is listed as belonging to Boskalis.
The operation, however, only lasted several hours that day. Local boatmen blocked the ship and threw firecrackers at it. No further sand mining activity was reported until the Fairway returned June 18 with an escort from the local marine police, which managed to scare off the locals who tried to disrupt its work.
That incident prompted the June 22 meeting with local government officials.
Muhammad Al Amin, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) in South Sulawesi, welcomed the suspension of sand mining activity.
“We will force South Sulawesi Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo to stop the mining by revoking the permit that was handed out to the company,” he said.
In January 2016, Walhi sued the provincial governor for issuing a permit in 2013 allowing the reclamation to commence despite the project allegedly having failed to follow the correct procedures.
One of Walhi’s complaints is that the permit was based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was issued in 2010.
In principle, an EIA is valid until the project is completed. However, the assessment expires after three years if no physical work takes place on the project. Walhi argues that, given the time elapsed between the issuance of the EIA and the commencement of work, the project needs to redo its assessment process.
The green group also alleged that regional officials failed to consult with independent experts before giving the green light for the reclamation.
The lawsuit also argues that work began before the local government got necessary permits from Jakarta. “Land reclamation activities have to get approval from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, as stipulated in the 2007 ministerial regulation on spatial management of coastal reclamation,” said Amin in February.
On Sept. 23, 2013, the South Sulawesi government sent a letter to the maritime ministry requesting a permit for the development. A month later, the ministry responded with a general list of legal requirements for starting a land reclamation project.
“[O]ur response letter [in October 2013] was not a permit issued by the ministry,” said Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi, general director of marine spatial management at the ministry, in a statement dated Mar. 29, 2016.
“Up till now, we have not issued either a location permit or an operational permit for the CPI Makassar area,” he added.
Walhi lost the lawsuit in July, but has appealed the verdict.
Despite the apparent lack of approval from the ministry, work is ongoing and is targeted to be complete by 2018.
The South Sulawesi government first proposed the Centre Point project in 2009. At the time, it was hailed as “the first state building complex in eastern Indonesia.”
The provincial government requested the development be included in the national budget along with two other high-profile land reclamation projects: Bali’s Benoa Bay and Jakarta Bay. Then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ultimately only approved the latter two.
The local government didn’t give up on the project. Instead, it was included in the South Sulawesi regional budget. Then, in 2013, the government offered private sector companies ownership stakes in the development in exchange for assistance with construction and financing.
PT Yasmin Bumi Asri won the tender under an agreement that 106.76 hectares, about 68 per cent of the area, will be owned by the Makassar-based developer for commercial use, while the rest would be used by the South Sulawesi government for the state guesthouse complex.
In May 2015, PT Yasmin Bumi Asri established a joint operation with PT Ciputra Surya, subsidiary of the Ciputra Group conglomerate, to help develop the five islands. Ciputra estimated that the first stage of the project would cost around 2.5 trillion Indonesian rupiah (about $187.66 million). The joint operation then employed Boskalis to oversee the construction of the islands.
According to the Dutch firm, about 75 hectares of land will be reclaimed using 9 million cubic meters of sand sourced from offshore borrow areas — such as Takalar district. Meanwhile, the rest of the land will use 13.6 million cubic meters of sand and gravel mined from onshore — such as Gowa district.
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