Route of MRT line a concern: Nature Society

Design shows line runs through nature reserve; LTA to study impact
Natalie Kuan Straits Times 25 May 13;

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 June 30, from 8.30am to 11.30am, to raise awareness of the issue.

Both events are open to the public.

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