So after a two-week break for a graduation trip to Southern California, Semawang Stories is back with some potentially breaking news: it looks like Google Maps may have just capitulated to a group of developers that are attempting to run roughshod over an area of Balinese wetlands.
Here’s the backstory: since around 2012 a group of developers led by a man named Tomy Winata has been pushing to develop an area of Bali called Benoa Bay. The plan is to reclaim an area of mangrove swamp and open water between Bali’s urbanized cities of Denpasar and Kuta to the North and West and the resort area of Nusa Dua to the south. According to a report in The Guardian from late last year, once developed, the new land would play host to “villas, apartments, luxury hotels, a Disneyland-style theme park and even a Formula One racing circuit.” The Guardian piece goes on to say that proponents of the deal, including Bali’s governor claim all this will bring jobs and allow for development not on Bali’s already strained arable land.
The development has also succeeded in obtaining a permit from Bali’s governor and a 2014 Presidential Decree revoking the bay’s protected status from out-going President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, aka SBY. SBY also happens to be a “close personal” friend of Tomy Winata, the developer and alleged member of the “Nine Dragons” crime syndicate, who reportedly financed the President’s election campaign in 2009.
But despite all those potential jobs, new and fun-sounding attractions, and edicts from political bigwigs, a group of pesky protestors has let their dissatisfaction known with what they’re calling an opaque decision-making process and pending environmental disaster if the project goes forward. Disputing a environmental impact study that projected minimal consequences for filling in 800-plus hectares of mangrove swamp and shallow tidal water including coral reef that acts as a drainage basin for the most densely populated area of the island, the Tolak Reklamasi (Reject Reclamation) campaign led by a group called ForBali has held numerous rallies and protests whose voice has reached to both Jakarta and Washington D.C. ForBali, short for Forum Rakyat Bali Tolak Reklamasi, is not to be trifled with. The organization counts among its members community leaders, artists and musicians including one of the archipelago’s leading bands, punk group Superman is Dead.
So far, Benoa Bay remains unclaimed, that is except for the toll road interchange that has driven hundreds of pylons into the sandy bottom. And on Google Maps. As you can see in the images below, on the “Map” version the northern most portion of the bay has already been reclaimed which is in direct contrast to the “Earth” version in which the toll road clearly cuts through water (albeit shallow). Semawang Stories’ highly skilled graphics team has highlighted the area in red to make it clear. Your correspondent has reached out to Google (seriously) and at time of publication has yet to have heard back.
Now there may very well be an innocent explanation for this (and your correspondent will make sure to update you if he hears back from Google) but the timing of this change (to this Bali resident’s knowledge it wasn’t there a couple weeks ago) could be telling. The development project has cleared all the bureaucratic obstacles necessary and even some of those from a higher plateau. Rumor has it that several of Bali’s priests were paid the not quite lofty sum of Rp150,000 (about $11.30) for their blessing of the project. Without a halt to the project from the desk of President Joko Widodo himself, construction could begin as soon as later this summer (in the northern hemisphere) on what looks like something straight out of Dubai.
To put this project in even more context, Bali has struggled for years to balance the paradoxes that exist between its image of a paradise on Earth and the rampant development that has left the southern part of the island a densely populated urban mass that sprawls further into its surrounding open space and agricultural land with every villa, hotel, and furniture store that is built. While this new project would center a good deal of construction on an area that is not land, the very real potential for flooding into the neighborhoods of Denpasar and introduction of even more waste into an area that is already swimming in garbage (literally, yr. correspondent has swum past a diaper, plastic bottles, trash bags, etc.) would be beyond tragic. As for Google, let’s hope all that data they’re gathering hasn’t made them prescient.