Airport Constructed

Airport Under Construction to Provide Access to Lake Toba
Jakarta Post, Indonesia

People who have visited Lake Toba several times will
find it hard to believe that an international airport
accessible by a Boeing airplane direct from Singapore
or Jakarta is now under construction in Silangit,
about five kilometers to the north of Siborong-borong,
a North Tapanuli subdistrict in North Sumatra.

"I don't believe it. Is it really true? Perhaps it's
only a plan. If so, it'll take a long time to
realize," said Togar Simatupang, a Jakartan who
originates from Muara, a subdistrict near Silangit,
upon hearing that an airport was being developed.

"If it is true it will be a giant step in assisting
the least developed area in the province," he told The
Jakarta Post last weekend.

Several individuals from a group from Jakarta invited
to visit the airport could not really believe that it
was under construction.

"Is it true that it has been under construction in
Silangit?" was a question from a journalist to Potsdam
Hutasoit, a member of House of Representatives
Commission IV (dealing with transportation and
infrastructure), who led a group of people to see the
ongoing construction of the airport.

The airport is now being developed by the North
Tapanuli administration in Silangit, a village that is
passed on the way from Siborong-borong to Muara
adjacent to the southern shore of Lake Toba, the
biggest lake in Asia.

"We originally initiated this development in 1988. But
we faced financial problems. At that time, we
understood that transportation was the key to
developing the area," he told The Jakarta Post when
visiting the airport construction Tuesday last week.

So far, some 900 meters of the airport runway have
been constructed. "The runway will have a length of
2,350 meters and a width of 30 meters. Hopefully, when
completed next year, it will be able to accommodate a
Boeing aircraft," said Saud M. Tambunan, president
director of Roy Grup, the developer of Silangit

North Tapanuli Regent R.E. Nainggolan told the Post
last Tuesday that he had allocated about Rp 2.7
billion (US$321,428) from the regency's 2004 budget to
support the development.

He added the central government had also allocated
about Rp 9 billion from the 2004 national budget,
which had been approved by the House, to finance the
first stage of airport development.

"As it is a national project, the central government
will also finance the subsequent stages of its
development," said Nainggolan, the outgoing regent,
who will be replaced by Torang Lumban Tobing, elected
in a general session of the regency's house of
representatives last week.

Potsdam Hutasoit, who is also a deputy chairman of Ad
Hoc Commission II of the People's Consultative
Assembly's Working Committee, said that the airport
construction was a breakthrough in spurring
development in the areas surrounding Lake Toba and the
western parts of North Sumatra province, which had
long been known as pockets of poverty and a rural

"All these areas have great potential, but due to
accessibility problems it could not be realized
easily. Look at that lake -- don't you think it's
beautiful? The land around it is good for agriculture.
There are also mining projects in several places,"
Potsdam said, pointing at Lake Toba, while sitting in
a hut in Huta Ginjang, a village on the mountainous
area surrounding the southern part of the lake.

"This is a national asset that should be developed so
that it can contribute well to the national economy,"
he pointed out.

At present, he said, people needed at least three days
to visit Lake Toba as they had to go to Medan first
before traveling about eight hours by bus to Parapat,
a small city on the eastern coastal area of the lake.

He said that when the airport was in operation --
hopefully next year -- visitors could access the lake
in about an hour from Singapore and about
one-and-a-half hours from Jakarta. All other areas
around the lake could be accessed from Silangit within
about half an hour at the most.

The locals will also be able to market their produce
directly to Singapore or Jakarta in fresh condition
without fearing that it will go rotten on the way, he

"With that breakthrough, we hope development here will
be accelerated. Tourism will flourish, agriculture
will do well. All sectors of development will rapidly
grow to benefit the locals, who are mostly poor," he
said, while drinking a cup of coffee in a simple hut
surrounded by simple houses near Silangit.

January 29, 2004

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