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A Truer Shade of Green

Editorial: Bali's Urgent Need for a Radical Rethink of Project Licensing.

(7/14/2008) It is painfully apparent that something is seriously wrong with the way Bali's administrators issue licenses and permits for new hotel and villa projects. Beyond the poor enforcement of existing rules and regulations on green belts, setbacks from rivers and waterfronts, and open-space ratios; the pay-as-you-go laissez-faire approach to granting permits for new projects is putting the Island's infrastructure under serious strain.

Time to Freeze New Permits for Hotels and Villas

Current regulations require all new villas and hotel projects to submit an amdal or environmental impact statement prior to the issuance of operating licenses and permits. Well intentioned in its initial conceptualization, the amdal are intended to require project developers to demonstrate no damage will result to the local environment from their proposed development.

On the assumption that each amdal is faithfully executed, recent developments have rendered this procedural step in its current form wholly inadequate to challenging task of protecting the environment of Bali and the island's future sustainability as a world-class tourism destination.

Bali's carrying capacity has reached its limits. The island's airport, without viable options for expansion, is operating near its upward limits. A local cultural antipathy to underpasses and elevated highways means traffic jams, heretofore unknown in Bali, are becoming increasingly commonplace and unlikely to improve in the forseeable future. Bali's agricultural lands and the foundation of its unique culture are disappearing at an estimated rate of 2% each year replaced by strip malls and ostentatious villas. Over development and overbuilding also mean that Bali's forests are no longer able to capture sufficient moisture to replenish the island's water reserves. Golf courses, swimming pools and manicured lawns have exacerbated the island's already severe water deficit, made worse by the encroachment of salt water into underground reservoirs once filled with sparkling fresh water.

Now, adding to this long list of troubling signs that something is seriously amiss in Paradise is the problem of the world-wide energy crisis and reports that Java and Bali will continue to face a severe electrical power shortage until 2010 or 2012.

Something’s Got to Give

Bali's newly elected Governor Made Pastika has many challenges before him, not the least of which is to take urgent steps to preserve the Island's international reputation by preserving and protecting its existing tourism infrastructure. What possible purpose can be served in allowing new villas and hotels to be built in Bali when it seems highly uncertain that sufficient power is available to even power existing tourism businesses over the coming 5 years? Will holidays spent in candlelit, non-air-conditioned rooms with guests taking baths in rationed quantities of cold water help sustain Bali's tourism industry or its reputation?

Our plea is neither "pro" or "anti" development in Bali. We're not talking rocket science here; but, rather, the simple application of common sense. The island's reputation will surely plummet if, in an over-eager search for "new investments," we cripple the ability of existing ventures to deliver a satisfying experience to Bali's visitors.

Because of this, we believe Bali's administration has a moral obligation to protect the financial and business interests of its current investor base and its tourist visitors by "closing the tap" on new investments until such a time that the Island's infrastructure has the demonstrable carrying capacity to sustain the burden of more villas and hotels.

The warning signs are undeniable. Bali's is at an impasse in its struggle to sustain its current rate of development; a failure to acknowledge this fact puts the future reputation of Bali at fundamental risk.