DUMAGUETE CITY, (PNA) -– Unless all permits and other pertinent documents are in order, the proposed massive dredging project in Tanjay City cannot yet commence, according to Oscar Magallones.
He is the provincial chief of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources in Negros Oriental.
Magallones was among those invited to the special session of the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Tanjay City Tuesday morning on what is now becoming a highly discussed issue on the dredging project which many from opposition fear to be allegedly a cover-up for magnetite, also known as black sand or margaja mining.
Magnetite is a mineral particularly in demand for its composition that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as for steel manufacturing, Magallones explained.
According to PENRO Magallones, dredging activity, as well as quarrying and mining for mineral ores whether large or small scale in nature, must go through the proper procedures as mandated by law.
Permits from agencies such as the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau, the Environmental Management Bureau, the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board and the Protected Area Management Board of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape must be obtained as warranted.
Aside from the necessary permits, other documents such as an Environmental Clearance Certificate and an Environmental Impact Assessment are also required, depending on the nature of the project, he added.
Small scale dredging, quarrying and mining activities only need a permit from the PMRB and the governor’s office if the site is within the jurisdiction of the provincial government, while industrial and large-scale operations, such as with the use of heavy equipment, will require permits from the national government, Magallones explained.
He also said mining and dredging are two different and distinct activities.
To recall, the issue on the proposed dredging in Tanjay City surfaced recently after Sino-Italy began moving in heavy equipment and other logistics to a private holding area in Poblacion Barangay 4 in a coastal area near the mouth of the Tanjay River several weeks ago.
Already, the proposed dredging project has started becoming “viral” in social media sites with individuals and groups expressing their opposition to the project as well as apprehensions on the negative impacts the project will have on the environment and the city’s residents.
The dredging project, which the local government unit of Tanjay entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a Bacolod-based company, Sino-Italy sometime last May, is designed to remove heavy siltation at the mouth of the Tanjay River, its estuaries and part of the adjacent coastline to prevent future flooding, administration officials said.
The project is at no cost at all to the Tanjay local government as Sino-Italy has offered to undertake the dredging of at least 19.5 hectares of heavily silted area at the mouth of the Tanjay River and other designated areas.
Tanjay officials have repeatedly explained that they accepted the offer of the contractor for the dredging project as the local government cannot afford to pay millions of pesos for the flood control project.
However, the memorandum of understanding between both parties stipulate that in exchange for the “free” dredging, the contractor can extract as much as 15 million cubic meters of dredged materials from which they can filter out the magnetite.
Apart from bringing in heavy equipment and adopting modern technology for the dredging and extraction project, Sino-Italy is also reportedly building a mineral processing plant in Tanjay where a magnetic separator will segregate the black sand from other waste matter.
The waste material, meanwhile, is eyed to be used for a 30-hectare reclamation project of the Tanjay City port.
PENRO Magallones, who admitted it was his first time to hear about this proposed project, cautioned that dredging, extraction and transport of dredged materials, as well as the rehabilitation of the city port, are operations that need separate permits from various agencies and offices.
He admitted that the dredging project is a “noble” undertaking to prevent future flooding in Tanjay City but it has to be addressed with utmost caution.
Meanwhile, Atty. Arnel Vivar, Tanjay City legal officer and concurrent city administrator, disclosed during the session that Sino-Italy had already obtained an ECC from the EMB, dated September 12, 2013 and signed by William Coñado.
Vivar read out some portions of the ECC during the special session.
For his part, Atty. Rayfrando Diaz II, legal counsel of Sino-Italy, assured that the company will only dredge and extract in areas designated by the city engineer’s office as shown in the program of work.
According to him, the project is a “re-engineering” of rivers, estuaries and designated areas so water can flow unimpeded.
Further, contrary to the rising opposition of the ill effects of the perceived black sand mining, Atty. Diaz appealed to the new (6th) council of Tanjay City to look at the facts and see whether the project is good for Tanjayanons.
“We came here because of your invitation”, he said, referring to the previous 5th council that had given Mayor Lawrence Teves the authority to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the contractor.
“We are pro-environment”, said Diaz, adding that the dredging is to save Tanjay from flooding in the future.
PENRO Magallanes said that for now, while operations have not yet commenced, people must be vigilant and continue monitoring the activities of Sino-Italy.
He said he and his team will be visiting the site soon to take a look at the current activities of Sino-Italy, which some quarters say is already in its preparation stage for dredging.