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Through nature reserve or around? Residents, nature groups stick to guns on Cross Island Line paths

SINGAPORE — Residents who may have to live with construction work at their doorstep are not letting up in opposing the proposal for the future Cross Island Line to skirt the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The private-housing development Lakeview Estate along Upper Thomson Road. The land in the foreground would be used for a worksite if the Government decides on the Cross Island Line route that skirts around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The private-housing development Lakeview Estate along Upper Thomson Road. The land in the foreground would be used for a worksite if the Government decides on the Cross Island Line route that skirts around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

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SINGAPORE — Residents who may have to live with construction work at their doorstep are not letting up in opposing the proposal for the future Cross Island Line to skirt the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Nature enthusiasts, for their part, are also sticking to their guns, repeating their objections to the MRT line passing underneath the nature reserve, saying that this could damage fragile ecosystems and harm wildlife.

These entrenched positions remain despite assurances this week that both alignment options being explored for Singapore’s eighth MRT line were feasible.

The latest assessment report found that the environmental impact of either tunnelling through the nature reserve or going around it could be “adequately managed” with comprehensive mitigating measures and monitoring plans.

On Monday (Sept 2), the authorities gazetted for public inspection and feedback the second stage of a report assessing the environmental impact of building the line. The Government has not decided on which option to take.

‘PERPETUAL WORKSITE’ FOR LAKEVIEW RESIDENTS

Skirting around the reserve would be S$2 billion costlier, based on a government estimate in 2016. The 9km route — instead of 4km if it runs underneath the reserve — would see three worksites being constructed.

One would be in front of Lakeview Estate, a four-decade-old private-housing development along Upper Thomson Road.

Most of the seven residents interviewed by TODAY on Tuesday were against a worksite situated in front of their homes. Others said that they would have to live with the inconvenience if it was for the good of everyone.

On Monday, it was revealed that, despite mitigating measures, such as visually compatible noise barriers, residents in high-rise apartments would be able to see the worksite during the estimated five-and-a-half years of construction.

Retired banker NC Raghava, 67, a resident since 1992, said that the area would resemble “a perpetual worksite”, since residents have already been living with noise and dust from construction of the Upper Thomson station nearby for the last five or so years. The station, on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line, is set to open next year.

When TODAY visited Lakeview Estate on Tuesday morning, the otherwise serene atmosphere was punctuated by the sounds of persistent drilling.

“Anything like that coming up will definitely be a bit noisy and… not very pleasant,” Mr Raghava said, adding that measures such as sound barriers would help.

Mr Tay Ah Poon, 83, a retired programme producer and resident since the 1970s, said that it will be “noisy and dirty”, though he acknowledged that the authorities were experienced in minimising dust and noise.

Retired finance manager David Chan, 67, a resident since the early 1990s, made his preference clear: “I would rather they disturb the animals.”

He was also concerned about how tunnelling could affect the foundation of buildings.

Indeed, an international panel of advisers on tunnelling and underground construction cautioned that the risk of incidents such as damage and cracks to buildings is higher for this option. But measures such as using suitable tunnel-boring machines would mean that the tunnels could be built to an “acceptable level of risk”, it said.

Others residents were more accommodative. Ms Catherine Chan, 68, said that while she dislikes dust, noise and congestion, she would be able to live with these if there is a real need for the line.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong, the Member of Parliament (MP) for the area, said that he had previously raised the residents’ concerns with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Even with measures such as noise barriers, Mr Chong said that it would still be “pretty unsightly” and dusty. Not only would residents of Lakeview Estate be affected, the business of merchants nearby would be hit as well.

But Mr Chong, a Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency MP, said: “We will work with LTA to develop further mitigating measures in the event that the skirting alignment is chosen.” 

THREAT TO RAINFOREST, ENDANGERED ANIMALS

On the other side of the fence, nature groups continue to argue passionately for the authorities to leave the nature reserve alone.

Mr Andrew Tay, executive-committee member at Cicada Tree Eco-Place, a non-governmental organisation that promotes conservation and natural heritage, said: “We are totally not for the Cross Island Line to go through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. 

“It is a remnant fragment of an ancient rainforest with its incredible biodiversity. That’s something so priceless and invaluable that you can’t put a price on it.”

The option of direct tunnelling means that the 4km route would cut beneath the nature reserve, Singapore Island Country Club’s Island Golf Course and the Pan Island Expressway. Of this, 2km would be under the reserve.

Mr Tay, a self-employed nature educator, noted that the latest assessment found that the option of going around the reserve was feasible. “You cannot just introduce millions of species back into the ecosystem… MRT lines can be built anytime, anywhere, but these natural phenomena are irreplaceable.”

While one mitigating measure outlined in the report was to replant part of the forested land cleared for construction, Mr Tay said that a return to a functional habitat is not guaranteed.

“These things take millions of years to evolve — all the species that come with it, the biodiversity.” 

Dr Andie Ang, who studies non-human primates, said that the direct-alignment option would set a precedent of cutting into a protected nature reserve.

Dr Ang, who chairs the Raffles’ banded langur working group funded by Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s conservation fund, also said that there is typically little follow-up done on the impact after construction.

The habitat of the Raffles’ banded langur — a critically endangered monkey numbering just 60 here — could be broken up if the line runs through the reserve.

Based on the latest assessment report, clearance and construction work could have a “major” impact in breaking up habitats at the first worksite along Island Club Road, and a moderate impact at the other site to the west of the reserve.

Measures including artificial crossing aids such as poles and rope bridges designed for creatures that live among trees — the langurs included — would help lower the impact to moderate levels, the report said. 

To reduce the threats from vehicular traffic, measures such as the enforcement of speed limits along Island Club Road would be in place.

Still, Dr Ang noted that rope bridges are artificial and it would take time before the animals use them, so the animals may be pushed onto the roads, increasing the risk of roadkill.

“Why can’t we look at not having that impact, rather than trying to come up with measures to minimise it?” she asked.

The Love Our MacRitchie Forest group — set up in 2013 when news of the Cross Island Line's possible alignment first came up — fears the loss of forest cover at the Island Club Road worksite could remove unique habitats of native forest species, or “specialists”, such as the langurs and the lesser mousedeer.

“This issue will probably not apply to the skirting alignment, since the worksites are not located where such forest specialists live,” Mr Liang Lei, a representative of the group, said.

The assessment report concluded that, with mitigating measures, the impact across all factors for the direct-alignment option would be lowered to “minor or moderate”, from “moderate to critical” levels.

However, Mr N Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore’s department of biological sciences, is concerned about the impact of multiple projects at and near the reserve. “Impact should be considered holistically, and a series of minor or moderate impacts will add up.” 

Ultimately, transport specialist Terence Fan of the Singapore Management University said that the Government has a difficult decision on its hands.

“Not every party will be pleased in any outcome. So there is some give-and-take and mitigating measures that need to be in place,” he said.

Related topics

Environment Impact Assessment environment survey mrt Cross Island Line Central Catchment Nature Reserve

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