Weeks after the Tribune featured the convergence project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) to rehabilitate, widen and extend the existing boulevard in Virac, grumblings have begun to be heard among environmentally-conscious people.
The gripe about the nearly P1-billion “boardwalk” project that would span over three years centers on the fact that it would bury under tons of rock nearly four kilometers of beaches along the shoreline of Virac poblacion.
Supposed to be implemented from 2018 to 2020 with a funding allocation of P746 million, the project will be kick started this year with an initial P50 million for the extension of a 146-meter stretch of the boulevard at its Salvacion section. This initial project alone would swallow the same stretch of brown sand beach that is a popular swimming spot for Virac residents, with the boulevard to be extended 12 meters toward the sea. Also being implemented is a P100 million extension of the boulevard at Francia.
No less than 3,200 cubic meters of rocks weighing at least 1.5 tons each would be unloaded on the beach, with the rocks to be “imported” from Albay province.
When completed, the reinforced concrete roadway along the 146-meter length of the initial project would be four lanes. The side fronting the sea would comprise the top portion of the shore protection work or sea wall and roughly 2.5 meters of open lane for joggers and bikers protected from the road by a plant box with bench. A one-meter sidewalk will also be constructed along the existing buildings and lots throughout the length of the project.
Under the DPWH guidelines, there is no need to get any environmental clearance from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources regarding the reclamation as it involves work on shore protection.
Naturally, this would raise the hackles of the tree huggers, who see the project as seriously impacting sea life on the Virac side of Cabugao Bay aside from denying beach lovers the opportunity of walking on or wallowing on the shore. The project also clashes with the municipality of Virac’s plan to protect and preserve marine life along its part of Cabugao Bay.
According to DPWH Catanduanes District Engineer Elmer Redrico, the project once completed would help develop tourism, serve as protection against storm surge, and decongest the town center of heavy vehicular traffic as it would be utilized as the primary road for vehicles to and from the proposed terminal near the market area. A wharf is also being proposed alongside the breakwater as a docking facility for small boats with protection against rough seas.
This early, environmental groups and LGU officials who are concerned about the possible effects of the boulevard extension and widening project should express their objections to the DPWH prior to implementation. Notably, no such group or official has publicly aired their opinions on the matter.
With the controversial DENR Secretary Gina Lopez taking on mining companies with environmental advocates by her side, it would not be too farfetched to speculate that she could throw a monkey wrench into the DPWH-DOT convergence project. Given this possibility, the project proponents would be well advised to craft a plausible defense against critics this early.