Indonesia NGO appeals ruling on China-funded dam in endangered orangutan habitat

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s biggest non-government environmental group on Wednesday launched a fresh legal bid to stop the construction of a controversial China-funded dam that some experts warn will destroy the habitat of a unique species of orangutans.

The $1.5 billion hydro dam is being built by a Chinese-Indonesian consortium in the heart of the Batang Toru rainforest in Sumatra, which is home to the Tapanuli orangutans, a species of the endangered great apes that was only discovered in 2017.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has fought for months in court to stop construction of the dam led by Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro. The project is due to be finished by 2022 after being approved by the local government.

On March 4, the state administrative court in Medan dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the approval process had ignored the environmental significance of the site and did not get input from residents.

Walhi lawyer Padian Adi Siregar said on Wednesday that they had taken the first steps to appeal to the high court in Medan and would bring evidence to show that the environmental assessment for the project was fraudulent.

“We hope the Medan State (high) court will re-check the evidence and information from our witnesses...including the fact one expert says his name and signature were falsified in the environmental impact analysis,” he told Reuters.

The expert, forestry scientist, Onrizal, told Reuters that his name and diploma were used without his permission in a final version of the environmental assessment, which also omitted any mention of endangered species, including of the orangutans.

Firman Taufick, a spokesman for the project developer, PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE), said the environmental review had been done by a consultancy separate from their company.

“Regarding the falsifying of the signature, we first heard about it through the media. The case is between the expert and the consultant company and is in the process of being registered as a police complaint,” he told Reuters. “We will wait for the police process.”

PT Global Inter Sistem (GIS), the consultancy that conducted the environmental assessment, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Onrizal’s allegations were first reported by environmental news site Mongabay.

Taufick previously said in a March 4 statement that the project would be safe and environmentally friendly.

He said it followed an environmental and social impact assessment and would work with experts to “protect the Batang Yoru ecosystem, including orangutans.”

Bank of China, the main financial backer for the dam, said in a statement on its website that it had taken note of the concerns expressed by environmental organizations.

“We are committed to supporting environmental protection finance. Bank of China will evaluate the project very carefully,” the lender said.

Sinohydro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Fanny Potkin, and Jessica Damiana. Writing by Fanny Potkin. Editing by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore