Cross Island Line site investigations haven’t driven away rare animals from nature reserve, says LTA

Today Online 9 Jun 18;

But more data is needed to assess impact on wildlife, conservationists say

SINGAPORE — Site investigations for the upcoming Cross Island Line (CRL) have not driven away animals such as the critically endangered Sunda Pangolin, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said in announcing “encouraging” findings from the completion of the works to examine the feasibility of two possible routes for the controversial project.

After the investigations, which involved the drilling of boreholes in one of Singapore’s largest nature reserves, camera traps managed to photograph the endangered pangolin and the Lesser Mousedeer, among other animals.

These sightings validated the measures LTA had taken to reduce the impact of its works, said Dr Goh Kok Hun, the authority’s director of civil design and land, in a press release on Friday (June 8).

Conservationists welcomed the news but said they needed more data before they could fully determine the impact on wildlife in the area.

The investigations are part of a major study into two possible alignment options for the 50km CRL, which is due to be completed around 2030.

One option involves tunnelling beneath some of the most pristine ecosystems in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, home to many native plants, birds and other animals. The other option would skirt the nature reserve, but would be more expensive to build.

The first option has drawn opposition from environmentalists and conservationists, who said such a move would seriously damage the reserve and its ecosystem.

The authorities have assured that a decision would not be made without a full range of studies, which include a “robust” two-phase environmental impact assessment.

Site investigations, which took place from May 2016 to September last year, were conducted after the first phase of the environmental study.

The authorities did not previously announce the use of camera traps to monitor the impact of drilling on animals in the nature reserve, which includes the MacRitchie reservoir.

TODAY has asked the LTA about the number of camera traps deployed and where they were located in relation to the boreholes. The frequency of animal sightings before, during and after the site investigation works is also not known.

“It’s nice to confirm that the animals are there but… they’ve always been within the area. The mitigation and all the additional adjustments during the period may or may not have helped in that respect,” said Strix Wildlife Consultancy’s Subaraj Rajathurai.

Mr Subaraj, who is part of a working group of nature experts in talks with the LTA on the CRL, added: “I think the results require a lot more analysis. Nonetheless, the positive we can take out of this is (that) it’s not an empty forest.”

Ms Chloe Tan, spokesperson for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, said: “It is encouraging to know that animals are still present in the vicinity of the works. However, we are not able to tell if the site investigation works impacted the wildlife just based on their presence or absence.”

It is important to compare the frequency and distribution of records before and during the works, said Ms Tan, adding: “It would provide much assurance if LTA could make public the full biodiversity monitoring report.”

The CRL will be fully underground and stretch from Jurong to Changi, catering to estates such as Clementi, Bukit Timah, Ang Mo Kio and Hougang.

The second alignment option that the Government is studying will skirt around the nature reserve and serve more commuters in the area. But this option would cost S$2 billion more, and add four minutes to travel time.

The LTA did not say in its latest press release when it will decide on an alignment option. It is expected to do so after the second phase of an environmental impact assessment is completed, studied and discussed with stakeholders.

Phase Two of the assessment will study the environmental impact of constructing and operating the CRL for both routes. It is expected to be completed later this year, said the LTA.

Wildlife seen in Cross Island Line site investigations
Channel NewsAsia 8 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: Site investigations carried out to study the impact of two alignment options for the underground Cross Island Line (CRL) in the vicinity of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve have been completed, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Friday (Jun 8).

Findings from the investigations suggest that wildlife are present in the area, with camera traps picking up the presence of animals such as the Sunda Pangolin and the Lesser Mouse-deer, said the authority.

The alignment of the CRL, which is targeted to be completed around 2030, has created some controversy among environmentalists and nature groups as the direct alignment option goes directly underneath the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. A second skirting alignment option goes around the reserve.

The site investigations took place between May 2016 and September 2017 as part of efforts to assess the feasibility of the two CRL alignment options.

"Monitoring results from cameras and transect surveys from the (site investigation) works for the direct alignment suggested that fauna are present in the area," said LTA.

Photos released by LTA showed Sunda Pangolins both before and after the site investigation works near Sime Trail in the reserve.

“Our camera traps picked up (the) presence of animals like the Sunda Pangolin and Lesser Mouse-deer after the completion of SI works. The findings were encouraging and validated the mitigation measures developed,” said Dr Goh Kok Hun, LTA’s director of civil design and land.

Mitigation measures involved efforts such as reducing the number of boreholes required, from 72 to 16, and making sure these were on existing trails and clearings within the nature reserve, according to LTA.

The findings of the site investigation works will provide LTA with information on underground soil conditions, as well as provide input for Phase Two of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which will assess the impact of construction and operations for the two alignment options.

Phase Two is ongoing and is expected to be completed later this year.

LTA said it has been in close consultation with nature groups on the studies, and will continue to engage them on the CRL.

The authority said it would finalise the CRL alignment after results from Phase Two of the EIA have been studied and discussed with stakeholders.

Source: CNA/nc

MRT soil probe: Steps to ease impact on wildlife working
LTA says animals still present in areas where drilling for soil samples for Cross Island Line took place
Derek Wong Straits Times 9 Jun 18;

Measures to mitigate the effects of investigation works for the Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) on wildlife have shown signs of working, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday.

It has found that wildlife is still present in parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve where drilling for soil samples has taken place. The drilling was part of the LTA's site investigations to study the impact of the CRL running under the reserve.

The LTA found the presence of wildlife in monitoring results from cameras and ground surveys.

Photos captured by camera traps included those of endangered animals such as the sunda pangolin and the lesser mousedeer.

LTA's director of civil design and land, Dr Goh Kok Hun, said: "The findings were encouraging and validated the mitigation measures developed."

These measures were put in place to minimise the impact of site investigation works on the flora and fauna in the reserve.

The investigation works, which took place between May 2016 and September last year, involved drilling 16 boreholes to extract soil samples.

They were the first steps in assessing the two CRL alignment options - going directly underneath the nature reserve or skirting it, said LTA.

The line, announced by the Government in 2013, had preliminary plans that showed it going under the reserve.

This raised concerns among nature groups here.

LTA consulted the National Parks Board and nature groups here over three years before drilling started.

There was a comprehensive suite of mitigation measures, said LTA, such as reducing the number of boreholes required for the works from 72 to 16.

Other measures included locating the boreholes on existing trails and clearings to minimise the impact on existing flora.

National University of Singapore biology lecturer N. Sivasothi, who has been part of the discussions LTA has had with nature groups, commended the suite of measures..

He said discussions on the plan were so detailed that they included specifying how an engine pump was to be operated to prevent petrol spillage.

These plans were necessary due to the potentially disruptive impact of the works, Mr Sivasothi said.

He added: "The process of conducting the investigation could have led to pollution - soil and oil can make the waters murky. The running engine and workers in the area would also cause animals to avoid the sites."

The boreholes were about 10cm in diameter and ranged from 50m to 80m deep at the different sites.

Ms Chloe Tan, spokesman for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, said the presence of animals might not mean there was no impact on the animals. There is a need to know their abundance and distribution too, she added.

She is hoping the line will not pass under the reserve.

While Mr Sivasothi looks forward to the full results of the study on the site investigations, he said these might not be sufficient.

"This is for the short term, but we will not know the long-term impact in 50 or 100 years, which is why we take great pains to avoid having works near or in the nature reserve," he said.

Phase two of the study, which assesses the potential environmental impact of future construction - including tunnelling and operations - is ongoing and is expected to be completed later this year, said LTA.

The CRL alignment will be finalised after the phase two results have been studied and discussed.

The 50km Cross Island Line will stretch from Changi to Jurong, and is set to be completed in 2030.