NEA plan seeks to limit damage from landfill expansion

Singapore will embark on a project by the end of the year to make sure that the expansion of its offshore landfill site does not damage nearby marine life.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) plans to start work on phase two of the Semakau Landfill between next January and March and complete it by early 2015.

This will allow Singapore to meet projected waste disposal needs up to 2035 or beyond. The current site at Pulau Semakau, an island south of Singapore, is expected to be filled by 2016.

The space set aside for the expansion is a lagoon with a small gap in its perimeter. This gap will be plugged with sand to turn the lagoon into a landfill.

The NEA wants a contractor to come up with a plan to monitor and limit the works’ impact to nearby marine life, according to a tender document it put up on government website GeBiz.

The project is expected to start in October and will include keeping an eye on water temperature and salinity changes, sediments spread by the works and chemicals in the water. It will also recommend limits for the changes. Of particular concern are the coral reefs, mangrove and seagrass patches and aquaculture farms off Pulau Semakau and nearby islands.

These include Sentosa, Pulau Jong, Pulau Sebarok, Pulau Bukom, and Lazarus, Kusu, St John’s and Sisters’ islands, the NEA said.

The contractor will study the areas for three months before construction starts to establish their conditions. It will monitor them during the works and for three months afterwards - up to May 2015 - in case of any delayed damage. The data will be used in an environmental report of the works’ impact.

For transparency, result summaries from the monitoring will be posted on a public website, although some data more suitable for, say, scientists may require user identification.

Every six months, a few qualified marine biologists from non-government groups will be allowed to join the coral reef habitat surveys. “This shall ensure there is no cause to question the reliability of the… data,” said the NEA.

The Singapore Nature Society’s marine conservation group committee member Leong Kwok Peng lauded the proposed project. “However, the actual monitoring and control of the ‘spill budget’ - sediment washed into the sea from the construction - will be most critical,” he said.

Others expressed concern that some islands near the works such as Pulau Sudong, Pulau Senang and Pulau Pawai were not included in the document.

These islands have rich, offshore biodiversity and should be protected, they said, but added that an external contractor may not be suitable as the islands have been used by the Ministry of Defence as training grounds.

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