SINGAPORE - Additional measures to further reduce the impact on the forest environment will be put in place, when soil works to see if a train tunnel can be built under the Republic's largest nature reserve start in the fourth quarter of this year.
In all, 10 additional measures will be implemented on top of the nine that were laid out in an earlier environmental report, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Wednesday (June 8).
- Scheduling at least one rest day in between surveys which require contractors to go off-trail;
- Engaging a certified arborist (tree expert) to ensure that trees are not damaged during the works;
- Involving nature groups as observers to reinforce compliance with mitigation measures;
- Requiring contractors to conduct trial runs and rehearsals of borehole operations and off-trail surveys off-site, before they venture into the forest, so as to ensure equipment is fully functional and "within the stringent requirements of working with the reserve".
These requirements will be part of a tender that the LTA will call later on Wednesday (June 8) to appoint a specialist for the site investigation works for the alignment that shows the upcoming Cross Island Line cutting under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
LTA's latest announcement comes after a nature group submitted a letter containing the signatures of more than 10,000 people to the authorities on Monday (June 6), urging the Government to rethink possible plans to build an MRT tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
The 50km Cross Island Line was first announced in 2013 as a link between Changi and Jurong. When the line was first announced, preliminary plans showed it cutting through primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.
Nature groups, alarmed by the environmental harm which be caused by the construction and operation of an underground MRT line through the reserve, suggested the line be built along Lornie Road. This alternate route goes around the reserve.
Since then, the LTA has been conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA) which looked at the impact of both routes on their surroundings.
The first phase of this assessment, which looked at the soil works and how to reduce their impact, was announced in February 2016.
The consultancy Environment Resources Management had suggested in its report then that mitigation strategies include the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise and tanks to collect discharge.
The LTA had also committed to reducing the number of boreholes required for soil testing from 72 to 16, and to gather the data needed through geophysical surveys instead.
Compared to the boreholes, which will be drilled into an existing trail, geophysical survey methods do not call for drilling. They instead require contractors to go off-trail into the forest.
In Wednesday's statement, LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong stressed that the Government has not yet decided on the final alignment for the upcoming Cross Island Line, which will connect Loyang to Jurong by 2030.
He added that LTA will work closely with the National Parks Board (NParks) - the custodian of Singapore's nature reserves - as well as nature groups, to ensure that the measures are implemented rigorously.
"We have received very useful feedback from the various stakeholders, including nature group representatives, and we have taken in most of their suggestions on a further set of mitigating measures for the conduct of the works," Mr Chew said.
"We will continue to study both possible alignments objectively, taking into consideration all factors and the concerns of all stakeholders, and the findings from the SI works will help the Government make an informed and considered decision."
NParks, in a separate statement on Wednesday, said it has given LTA its approval to proceed with soil works in the reserve.
"The approval is given in view of the series of stringent safeguards, and comprehensive and substantive mitigation measures that will be put in place to limit the impact of the site investigation works on the ecology and biodiversity of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve," it said.
Said Mr Marcus Chua, curator of mammals and birds at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum: "While soil investigation works that are potentially detrimental to the environment are still slated to take place in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, these additional measures would help reduce the environmental impact of site investigation works to wildlife there.
"It is good to see that the authorities are taking steps to address some of these issues after discussions with stakeholders."
The Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, which had sent the letter to the authorities on Monday, said it appreciated LTA's promise to implement stringent mitigation measures during soil investigation works, and that it acknowledged the agency's commitment to ensuring the safety of the flora and fauna.
But group representative Teresa Teo-Guttensohn added: "It breaks our hearts that soil investigation works in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve have been approved. We stand by our view that the reserve should be free of any interference."