Saturday 1 June 2013

Cross Island Line: Protecting nature reserves a key consideration

WE REFER to Wednesday's letters ("Rethink route of Cross Island MRT line" by Mr Chia Yong Soong; and "Cross Island Line: LTA must be proactive in engaging stakeholders" by Mr Eugene Tay Tse Chuan, Forum Online).

The detailed alignment of the Cross Island Line has not been decided and the Land Transport Authority will carry out detailed studies before finalising the alignment.

We assure readers that we will be commissioning an independent Environmental Impact Assessment to study the environmental impact of the line, as part of its overall assessment and design.

As part of the assessment, the consultant is required to develop guidelines to guide the engineering investigative works, which will be carried out in compliance with these guidelines.

In the coming months, we will engage and consult various stakeholders, including nature and environmental groups, to ensure that their views and concerns are accommodated as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment study.

We share the environmentalists' concerns over any possible impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and assure them that sufficient time will be accorded to address these concerns.

Protecting the nature reserves will be an integral consideration for the project and all efforts will be taken to minimise impact to the environment.

In particular, we assure the public that some of the scenarios that have been raised, such as the need or intention to clear large tracts of forest in the nature reserves, or the possibility of there being major construction works within the nature reserves, are not being contemplated.

We ask for some patience as we continue to make preparations for the consultation and the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Helen Lim (Ms)
Director, Media Relations and Public Education
Land Transport Authority
ST Forum, 31 May 2013

** Cross Island Line: Impact on nature to be studied
LTA: No decision on route at largest nature reserve until assessment done
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2013

A STUDY to investigate the environmental impact of the Cross Island Line (CRL) on Singapore's largest nature reserve will begin next year.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday said it will call a tender in the first quarter of next year for the assessment, which will help it decide if this MRT line should pass through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or skirt around it.

Apart from investigating the impact of possible alignments, the consultant will also have to suggest how to reduce any possible negative impact and come up with guidelines on suitable ways to carry out works such as soil investigation in the reserve.

LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong stressed that no decision on the CRL's route will be made until this assessment and other studies are completed.

Announced in January, the 50km, fully underground CRL, which will connect Jurong to Changi, is targeted to be ready in 2030.

Nature and environment groups soon raised concerns that works for the MRT line could cause irreparable damage to the nature reserve, which they say has a unique, complex and highly sensitive ecosystem. The area that could be affected is near the MacRitchie Reservoir.

In July, the Nature Society (Singapore) released a 40-page paper that suggested running the line around the reserve to reduce damage to its ecosystem.

After several meetings with the LTA, the nature groups have agreed to help define the questions that the consultant needs to answer as part of the environmental impact assessment.

Nature Society spokesman Tony O'Dempsey said the groups will help ensure that there is a "realistic assessment" of the impact of physical works on the reserve.

Mr Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, said the groups are now collating available literature and research on the reserve's ecology for the study, to ensure that the assessment is "very comprehensive".

"We have to be careful to cover all bases. The nature groups involve many people who have spent many years in the reserve. We know the sensitivities that need to be looked at and the flora and fauna that are at risk."

While the nature groups favour a route which goes around the south of the reserve, some residents in the Thomson area are worried about how the CRL may affect their homes.

Thomson-Toa Payoh Citizens Consultative Committee chairman Ronald Lim noted the area will soon see the start of three other major projects - a deep cable tunnel project, the Thomson Line and the North-South Expressway.

"If the CRL is also built in the area, residents have to put up with the inconvenience for up to 15 years. And who knows if acquisitions may be required?" he said.

He hopes the LTA study will also take into account the urban impact of the CRL.

The assessment, which will take up to two years, is expected to be completed in 2016. That will be followed by an 18-month engineering feasibility study on the possible routes.

After that, LTA will consider all the relevant factors, from the environment to travel time and cost, before deciding on the route. Said Mr Chew: "The findings will guide us in making a considered decision on which option best serves the interests of the public."

* LTA delays environment study
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2013

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) will hold back its study of the environmental impact of the Cross Island MRT Line until after nature groups have completed their investigations.

It made the decision after its officials met nine representatives of several nature groups yesterday. The meeting was the first face-to-face session between the LTA and the groups since they expressed concern about the proposed MRT line passing through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The groups, which include the Nature Society Singapore and Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, offered to conduct a study on how different alignments of the line would impact flora and fauna in the nature reserve.

In accepting it, LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong said the authority will consider the findings before deciding how to conduct its own environmental impact assessment.

Preliminary plans have an estimated 1.4km of the line passing underground through the reserve. Several groups had expressed concern that even soil investigations for the line would damage the nature reserve's ecosystem, and called for the line to go around the reserve instead of through it.

Mr Chew said the nature groups' study will help the LTA avoid undue impact on the environment. "We will not start any work until such time where there is a proper understanding of what is the correct way to do it, so as to minimise the impact on the nature reserve," he said.

He noted that plans presented in January were a "broad brush stroke", and the LTA will consider several factors before it decides on an alignment.

This includes environmental impact, overall travel time, how the line fits into the land use plan and whether it will affect any existing house.

Engineering studies are also needed to decide if it is technically feasible to have the line skirt around the reserve.

Mr Tony O'Dempsey, the Nature Society's spokesman on the issue, said the meeting was positive and the study should take about six months.

Mr Chew said the LTA had intended to call a tender for environment studies late this year or early next year. Plans for the line remain on track even though the LTA is waiting for the study to be completed, he added. The line will run from Changi to Jurong, and is slated for completion in 2030.

Rethink route of Cross Island MRT line

THE proposal to run the Cross Island Line across the gazetted Central Catchment Nature Reserve is a cause for concern ("Route of MRT line a concern: Nature Society"; last Saturday).

At stake is a national treasure trove of biodiversity - a verdant stretch of primary, secondary and young forest that supports many native plants and trees, and is home to insects, animals, birds and fishes.

Water from natural sources there drains into the surrounding reservoirs. The vast catchment forest also acts as a green lung in the central part of our island, providing clean air and counteracting the greenhouse effect.

Even if the rail system runs underground, much construction work will have to be done on the surface, such as providing access to transportation and building site offices.

Large tracts of forest would have to be cleared. This means erosion, pollution, noise and a whole host of other ill effects.

One wonders how an Environmental Impact Assessment can have anything positive to say about such a venture.

That such a proposal came to pass throws into question the claims by the Government of its commitment to protect the environment. It seems that even a gazetted nature reserve is no longer protected.

There should not be soft or easy options, and certainly not explanations such as "this is the most direct and shortest route across".

I urge the Government to seriously rethink the route of the line and avoid the destruction of a major part of our natural heritage.

Chia Yong Soong
ST Forum, 29 May 2013

Cross Island Line: LTA must be proactive in engaging stakeholders

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) must be proactive and sincere in engaging stakeholders when planning the Cross Island Line, whose present design has tracks cutting across the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Area ("Route of MRT line a concern: Nature Society"; last Saturday).

Nature reserves are sensitive habitats and gazetted areas, and the LTA should have anticipated the concerns of stakeholders before unveiling its plans in January.

There were apparently no proactive attempts to engage or consult stakeholders before the announcement.

Concerned stakeholders have waited patiently for four months to engage LTA to understand its plans for the Environmental Impact Assessment and feasibility studies. How much longer do they have to wait?

The LTA should come forward with a concrete date for the stakeholder engagement.

Now is the time for it to be proactive and sincere in engaging the Nature Society and interested individuals and groups. The future of our nature reserves is at stake.

Eugene Tay Tse Chuan
ST Forum, 29 May 2013

Route of MRT line a concern: Nature Society
Design shows line runs through nature reserve; LTA to study impact
By Natalie Kuan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2013

THE Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) has called for a realignment of the Cross- Island MRT line (CRL), to protect the nature reserve in the central catchment area that includes MacRitchie Reservoir.

It noted that the present design has the train tracks passing through the nature reserve to connect Bukit Timah and Ang Mo Kio. This will cause habitat fragmentation and soil erosion, leading to significant environmental damage, it said.

The society's official spokesman on this issue, Mr Tony O'Dempsey, said: "Nature reserves are gazetted for the purpose of conserving native flora and fauna.

"We should not even be thinking of putting infrastructure through our nature reserves."

The society is suggesting that the line runs around the nature reserve, though it is aware that alternative routes pose new challenges.

They are keeping their options open, and are only advising that the line not run through the nature reserve, the society said in a position paper it plans to put up on its website by the end of this month.

Going around the nature reserve instead of cutting through it means a longer route but has the benefit of protecting the reserve, the society said.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) unveiled the CRL in January this year. A date for construction has not been set, but the line is slated for completion in 2030.

Earlier this month, the LTA said it will start feasibility studies for the line at the end of this year.

This includes soil investigation works, where 70m-deep holes are bored at 15m to 20m intervals to determine the strength of soil in the tunnelling area.

The society said its position paper will include geographic information systems (GIS) analysis to show that this will lead to unavoidable soil pollution in forest streams, killing stream flora and fauna, and causing imbalances in the surrounding ecosystem.

It is also conducting targeted fauna surveys in the affected areas, which will take several months to complete. It will continue to update its position paper as survey results and members' feedback come in.

When contacted on this issue, an LTA spokesman said "the LTA fully intends to commission an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to study the environmental impact of the Cross-Island Line".

She said a consultant would be engaged before engineering investigative works into the central catchment nature reserve begin.

The engineering investigative works, which also include soil investigations, will be carried out in compliance with guidelines set by the EIA consultant, she added.

The spokesman also stressed that the LTA will engage and consult various stakeholders such as the NSS to "ensure that their views and concerns are accommodated as part of the EIA study".

She added: "We ask for some patience as we continue to make preparations for the consultation and the EIA."

Still, Mr O'Dempsey, who holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Surveying) and has worked in the GIS industry in Singapore for 19 years, feels it is too late to conduct an environmental impact assessment if soil investigation is to begin by this year.

He estimates that a credible EIA would take almost a year to complete. "It is never too late to start but if you start now, there won't be any possibility of doing soil investigation along the alignment this year," he said.

The society hopes that with this paper, the LTA will take into account its concerns over the CRL. It welcomed being engaged in the process of considering alternative designs.

Other local environmentalists such as Ms Teresa Guttensohn from Cicada Tree Eco-Place are also getting in on the action. Ms Guttensohn has a protest planned for June 22 to 23 at Hong Lim Park.

Cicada Tree Eco-Place will also be organising walks through MacRitchie Reservoir on June 16 and 30, from 8.30am to 11.30am, to raise awareness of the issue.
Both events are open to the public.

* Nature Society suggests different route for MRT line
Cross Island Line works put nature reserve 'at risk'
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2013

RUNNING the planned Cross Island MRT Line along Lornie Road instead of through Singapore's largest nature reserve would add just 2km and four minutes to travel time.

That would help reduce the damage to the reserve's ecosystem, the Nature Society (Singapore) suggested in a 40-page paper giving its take on the new line.

The position paper, released yesterday, also described the environmental damage that may be caused by the soil investigations and tunnelling needed for the 50km MRT project, which is expected to be ready in 2030.

The line, first announced in January as part of the Government's Land Use Plan, runs from Jurong to Tampines. It appears to pass through densely built-up areas like Sin Ming, Hougang and Clementi.

But is also seems to cut through primary and secondary forest in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

The forest, home to birds such as the critically endangered white-rumped shama and uncommon animals including the pangolin and clouded monitor lizard, will be affected by the land clearing needed for soil investigation works, the paper said.

The soil works, which involves boring 70m-deep holes every 15m to 20m to determine soil strength, would also muddy and choke delicate freshwater streams containing rare native fish like the malayan pygmy rasbora, the NSS added.

While water agency PUB has rules to control erosion during construction, "mitigation does not equate to no impact", said NSS spokesman Tony O'Dempsey.

And tunnelling through granite also carries the risk of rock collapse and soil subsidence, the paper added, pointing out that the MacRitchie forest is part of a gazetted nature reserve under the Parks and Trees Act.

The National Parks Board said in its statement yesterday it "would be concerned about the impact that any development may have on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which is gazetted for the conservation of our flora and fauna".

NSS suggested the use of alternative routes, such as building the line along Lornie Road.

It may be expensive to acquire the land, the paper suggested, but the price of lost and damaged ecosystems should also be factored into project costs.

A Land Transport Authority spokesman said it had received NSS' paper and will study it in detail, adding that the path the line will take has not been decided.

She said: "No decision will be made until after an environmental impact assessment has been conducted. We remain committed to ensuring that any decision taken will seek to safeguard our nature reserves even as we seek to meet the infrastructure development needs of Singaporeans."

Last Friday, Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo visited the forest with several nature groups and wrote about her trip on Facebook.

"A new MRT line will impact many different stakeholders, all of whom have views we need to consider," she wrote.

"They include commuters concerned about distance and home owners whose families may have to relocate... It goes without saying that whatever we do, we will take into account the impact on our nature reserves."

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