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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Parliament Report (full text): "Land reclamation at Pulau Ular", 20 Jul 2005.

Full text of the parliamentary discussion reported in The Straits Times, 21 Jul 05 as "Harm to marine life to be minimised."

Land reclamation at Pulau Ular (Environmental Impact), 20 Jul 2005. Singapore Parliament Reports, Parliament 10, Session 2, Vol. 80, Sitting 8. MPs Speaking: Dr Geh Min; Mr Heng Chee How; Mr Abdullah Tarmugi (Mr Speaker).

4. Dr Geh Min asked the Minister for Trade and Industry whether an Environmental Impact Assessment has been done with reference to land reclamation at Pulau Ular and, if so, what are the findings and recommendations particularly pertaining to the impact on coral reefs and marine lives of the surrounding areas and, if not, can one be done as soon as possible.

Mr Heng Chee How (for the Minister for Trade and Industry): Mr Speaker, Sir, JTC, which is the appointed agent for the reclamation project at Pulau Ular, had commissioned an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study three years ago to determine the feasibility of reclaiming land at that particular site. The study was conducted by DHI Water and Environment (Singapore) Pte Ltd, which is an internationally renowned hydraulic institute, and included a survey of the corals and marine life around the area. Earlier this year, a supplementary assessment was also conducted to augment the earlier study.

DHI's assessment indicated that, with proper sequencing of the reclamation procedures and proper controls to limit the release of silt into the waters, marine life in these waters would not be endangered.

In line with DHI's assessment, JTC will work with the reclamation contractors to put in place necessary mitigating measures to minimise silt release. These include the use of fill materials with low silt content, and close monitoring of the sand filling process. In addition, at locations, such as Terumbu Bayan, where the corals will be directly impacted, these corals will be relocated to suitable locations. JTC will be pleased to work with interested organisations for this relocation exercise.

This reclamation project is currently in the advanced stage of planning. JTC has submitted its plans to the relevant regulatory agencies for approval. If necessary, JTC will work with the relevant agencies to put in place additional checks to ensure that the project minimises negative impact on the environment and marine habitats.

Dr Geh Min: Sir, firstly, may I ask if the Environmental Impact Assessment can be made available to other stakeholders, in other words, the public who is interested and concerned about the marine life there? Can the Minister of State give me more information about the techniques used - whether suction dredges are used, what type of silt screens are going to be used, is it a dry type of reclamation, will the reclamation be conducted from the north or south side and, in particular, the islands in the south, Pulau Hantu, and the protection of these islands which are one of the richest for our coral life have been taken into account in the Environmental Impact Assessment?

Mr Heng Chee How: Mr Speaker, Sir, firstly, I will take the Nominated Member's suggestion about providing more information from the Environmental Impact Analysis and how to make it more available into consideration by the Ministry.

Secondly, in terms of the technical information of the EIA, I am afraid that I do not have those specific technical information. But I would just like to assure the Nominated Member and all Members of the House that, from the MTI's perspective, we certainly do not want to do any more disruption or damage to our natural habitat or marine life than is absolute necessary. That is why, for a reclamation project like that, we commission a study and get it done by a body, in this case, DHI, that is competent in this regard. The entire purpose of doing this is to make sure that, even as we pursue the reclamation project in order to advance our economic objectives, we give balanced and focused attention on how we might be able to achieve that in tandem with taking care of our natural environment. So, this is the assurance that I would like to give to the Nominated Member and all Members of the House.

Dr Geh Min: Sir, I would like to thank the Minister of State for his assurances. Could I ask whether the Ministry of Trade and Industry routinely, before designating an area for industrial development - in this case, in the southern islands - do an EIA and consult all stakeholders, or is this only done after it is designated for industrial use, as in the case of Pulau Ular? Perhaps, I could use an analogy here. There have been EIAs done. Some of them have been done late and they can, therefore, only suggest mitigating measures.

Mr Heng Chee How: Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to reiterate the Ministry's stand that, in wanting to promote economic development in Singapore, we are actually on the side of wanting to achieve that objective in tandem with seeing how best to also protect our environment. Studies, like the Environmental Impact Analysis, are actually demonstrative of our commitment in this area. Economic development can happen anywhere in Singapore, depending on the places that are zoned for industrial use and so on. So, whether or not there is a need for a large-scale or detailed Environmental Impact Analysis, we will have got to judge it on a case-by-case basis.

But, again, I would want to return to my point here that, if there are suggestions that the Member would like to give to the Ministry as to how to better schedule such studies or see when such studies might be necessary, we will certainly welcome those comments, and we would take those into consideration in improving our methods where necessary.

Mr Speaker: Dr Geh Min. Last supplementary question.

Dr Geh Min: Sir, I would like to thank the Minister of State for his offer. I have said this before, a more optimal way of approaching this problem is not to have MTI designate an area for industrial development and then have major reactions from various stakeholders - and I am not just talking about nature conservationists, I am talking about academics, scientists, other stakeholders - such as divers, fishermen ---

Mr Speaker: Dr Geh Min, can you please ask your question?

Dr Geh Min: Yes, Sir, may I propose to the Ministry that there should be a proper mapping out of the southern islands, including all the bio-diversity, and which areas are particularly rich. I would like to point out here that Pulau Hantu, which is less than 100 metres south of Pulau Ular, is considered one of the richest areas in the southern islands. If we have a proper mapping out before designating which areas are to be used for what, it would give other Government Ministries a better idea of where to locate their developments. Can I also reiterate that it is important ---

Mr Speaker: Dr Geh Min, I must insist that you ask your question, please.

Dr Geh Min: Sir, the Minister of State asked me for some recommendations as to how they can best approach it.

Mr Speaker: You can give it later. This is Question Time.

Dr Geh Min: Sir, my last question is: could we have a central coordinating body to protect the marine life and bio-diversity in the southern islands?

Mr Heng Chee How: Mr Speaker, Sir, I thank the Nominated Member for her views and suggestions. We will take in those views and consider them, as appropriate.

On the question whether or not we should map out, on a comprehensive national basis our natural habitat, I would just like to point out that the mission of the MTI is an economic one. It is when we are pursuing this mission that we are looking at different places and we say that, "Now, let us do something here." But we also know that, if we want to do something at a particular location, there could, possibly in some cases, be environmental impact, and that is why when we decide to pick a particular place, then we go to that impact study to see how best to approach the subject matter, and not the other way around.

Mr Speaker: I would like to remind Members to be frugal with their supplementary questions, unless they are crucial and please make them precise."

Thanks to Wild Singapore which has the chronology on the issue.