Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No ‘development vs environment’ case in Subic resort project–SBMA

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—The classic dilemma of development versus environment will not be the case in the now controversial $120-million hotel-casino resort project of a Korean company here, a top official of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) clarified over the weekend.

Disputing claims that over 300 trees will be destroyed in building the Ocean 9 Casino and Hotel Resort in Subic, SBMA administrator Armand Arreza said the issue raised by architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. was way off-mark.

“He’s barking up the wrong tree,” Arreza said, in a statement, issued over the weekend. “This story about cutting century-old trees is simply a non-issue because it isn’t true,” he added, pointing out that developer of Grand Utopia has already applied for a permit to ball trees for relocation.

Arreza reiterated that the SBMA will not allow the cutting of trees in the two-hectare project site, and has directed Grand Utopia to exhaust all means possible to save the trees.

“The SBMA directive to Grand Utopia is clear—either they incorporate the trees in their development plan, or ball them and relocate them to another place,” he said.

“And as far as we can tell they’re complying, because they have applied for a permit to ball the trees,” Arreza also said.

“So I don’t know why some quarters are bitching about this supposed issue, when not one twig has been cut off and the trees are still there,” he added.

In several media reports, Palafox has said more than 300 trees would be destroyed by the hotel-casino project. He also claimed recently that 37 of the affected trees are centuries-old. The architect also claimed he broke ties with Grand Utopia, which he said had initially tapped him to design the project.

He also said he would have been paid $1 million for the design, but he learned later that the developer had tapped a Japanese designer and that he will simply be asked “to sign on other people’s work.”

The resort project, proponents said, will employ more than 5,000 once completed, and open up Subic to more international tourists, including those on cruises and junkets.

Arreza said, however, the issue about Palafox’s aborted deal with Grand Utopia “should be treated separately from the yarn about cutting trees in Subic.”

He added that the SBMA has inventoried a total of 366 live trees in the area, which are mostly clustered in a now abandoned mini golf course built by the US Navy. The inventory indicated that only seven trees in the area had a diameter of more than one meter. The rest have girths ranging from one to 95 centimeters.

A total of 36 trees, meanwhile, fall under the classification “endangered” and “critically endangered” species. These are 21 Manila palms, which are considered endangered; two ipil trees, also endangered; and 13 narra trees, which are critically endangered.

“The narra trees, which are found along the perimeter of the area will be retained, while the Manila palms can easily be balled and transferred,” Arreza said.

Arreza clarified, however, that while the project site is densely stocked with trees in the golf course area, the SBMA master plan dated October 1996 has classified the same as designated for resort development.

He added that experts from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños doubted whether there are century-old trees in the area, because geological studies of the project site indicated that the area was reclaimed by the US Navy.

“That being the case, the UP group said that the so-called urban jungle in the project site couldn’t be a natural-growth forest. Ergo, the possibility that there are century-old trees present is quite nil,” Arreza explained.

Meanwhile, an SBMA official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, commented that Palafox “should not hide behind the skirt of environmentalism when his issue is really about his failed consultancy (with Grand Utopia).”

The official recalled that Palafox himself had allowed the paving of a turtle-nesting site in this free port when he designed a hotel and entertainment district along Subic’s waterfront in 2004.

“That was the first time when the SBMA Ecology Center issued a cease and desist order against a project because of environmental concerns,” the official said.

The official added that the sprawling entertainment complex that Palafox designed eventually resulted in the cutting down of more than 100 camachile trees in the project site. Written by Henry Empeño / Business Mirror Correspondent

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