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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Committed to saving rivers

MRCB Environment specialises in rehabilitation and conservation

MRCB Environment Sdn Bhd's core activity as an environmental solutions provider has enabled the company to be very involved with the local community and its surroundings.

The company, established in 2003, has undertaken several projects to conserve the environment. It specialises in the rehabilitation and conservation of beaches and rivers in the country.

The idea to set up MRCB Environment, which is a 55% owned subsidiary of Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB), first surfaced in 2000, said its director Dr Shaharizuan Shafiei.

Dr Shaharizuan Shafiei showing the Kuala Sungai Pahang river mouth area where MRCB Environment will build a breakwater system.

MRCB is traditionally well known in the “brick-and-mortar” businesses such as construction of roads, buildings, highways and power generation plant.

Shaharizuan, who is also vice-president and infrastructure and environment division head of MRCB, said there was concern that certain businesses of MRCB might be on the decline at the beginning of 2000.

“We decided to go into an area that, while we generated income, we would also be doing something for the public which makes us feel good. So, what is better than working on projects related to the environment?”

At the same time, environmental awareness among Malaysians was just picking up, but no one really spoke about beach conservation and restoration, river rehabilitation and maintenance of the water quality.

In a way, MRCB saw the potential in its environmental activities not only as a business venture but also something in line with its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to promote eco-friendly environments and encourage domestic tourism.

MRCB Environment's pilot project was the Teluk Cempedak beach rehabilitation in Pahang, which was awarded by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) in 2003. The beach was suffering from erosion due to loss of sand.

Shaharizuan said the company employed the pressure equalisation module (PEM) system, combined with sand nourishment, to rehabilitate the coastline of Teluk Cempedak.

“The water table will be reduced, hence making the sand on the beach drier. Erosion at beaches happens because the sand is wet and saturated,” he explained.

PEM pipes were installed under the seabed to assist the pressure from the ground water level and stimulate sand sedimentation. The beach was sand nourished to achieve a wider beach profile, after which additional PEM pipes were installed under the new beach to reduce erosion.

The project was completed in 2004 and the sand nourishment had increased the beachfront of Teluk Cempedak by 80m to 100m.

Shaharizuan said after that, the company was given a small contract by DID to maintain the beach for three years.

MRCB Environment also deployed a similar solution when it received an interim award from DID in 2005 to conserve 3km of beach at Teluk Tekek, Tioman Island.

The project involved construction of a sea wall, which together with the PEM system, was expected to minimise erosion and enhance its recreational value for tourism-related activities.

Besides that, a study was initiated to look into the pollution in various rivers in Teluk Tekek, drainage problems and mooring facilities.

The company also carried out an awareness programme to protect the rivers from further pollution, said Shaharizuan.

“Besides completing the project, the key thing is to create awareness among the village folk to not discharge kitchen effluents directly into the river. It ought to be treated first.

“DID introduced the grease trap, also known as simpack, at selected villages, and they were installed in food outlets on the island,” he explained.

Shaharizuan said the education provided was not only on the installation of the grease trap but proper maintenance.

“We continue to visit the owners of food outlets and explain to them that the Government has spent millions to restore the beach and they can play their role by using the grease traps provided by the local authority,” he added.

Another project undertaken by MRCB Environment, which also gave it the opportunity to improve the lives of a local community, was the protection of Kuala Sungai Pahang river mouth.

The company received an interim award worth about RM60mil in mid-2006 to improve the river mouth on a design and build basis.

The interim works included immediate dredging and design of breakwater at the river mouth.

Once completed, the project will provide safer navigation channels for fishermen surrounding the area, especially during the monsoon season, and mitigate flooding in the area.

Shaharizuan said that with the implementation of the breakwater system as well as dike retention pond and pump in the towns such as Pekan located further up the river, losses due to flood could be reduced by 30%.

MRCB Environment has received an interim letter of award to rehabilitate Sungai Prai, Penang, and a letter of intent to rehabilitate Sungai Kuantan, Pahang. It had also submitted proposals for work on three rivers in Johor and Sungai Juru, Penang.

The company worked with various parties, including foreign universities and local consultants, on some of its projects.

Shaharizuan lamented the lack of environmental engineers in the country.

On plans to enlarge the pool of talent, he said: “It is quite difficult, but our key strength is our people. We source them from everywhere; we take in ex-DID staff and employ civil engineer who are keen on this area and train them. We hope to churn out very good environmental engineers in the future.”

MRCB Environment's revenue contribution to MRCB is not significant at present, but the potential in this area of work is enormous. Shaharizuan said there was a lot of work to be done in Malaysia.

“If we concentrate here alone, it should be more than enough to sustain us for many years,” he added.

On the possibility of seeking out projects abroad, Shaharizuan said: “We are an expert in Malaysia but there are a lot of companies already doing this overseas. If we go to other countries, we have to be competitive in terms of pricing.”

The company also plans to venture into other projects related to the environment such as garbage disposal, mangrove restoration and erosion control.

By The Star (by Chan Ching Thut)

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