New DENR policy addresses delays in DPWH road widening projects
posted 17-Sep-2018  ·  
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Not too long ago, representatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO), and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) were called to a meeting by the Sangguniang Bayan.

A councilor, Nel Asanza, had delivered a privilege speech highlighting the danger posed to motorists by trees and electric posts left untouched by contractors in on-going highway and bridge widening projects along national roads.

DENR personnel disclosed that the contractors filed tree cutting applications as the projects had already been started, with the permits approved only at the level of the regional director for planted trees and by the DENR secretary in case of naturally-grown trees.

The meeting ended with the agreement that the council could declare the trees within the road right-of-way to be a danger to the public and the DENR would allow it to be cut, even without a permit. To this day, this has not happened, much to the dismay of the public who had expected the local government to push it through.

With Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu recently issuing a new policy delegating to the Community Environment and Natural Resources Officers (CENROs) the authority to issue tree-cutting and earth-balling permits to fast track DPWH infrastructure projects, there is only a need for the local government to endorse the cutting of the road-encroaching trees.

 “The concerned (community environment and natural resources) office shall issue the corresponding tree-cutting permit and/or earth-balling permit within three working days indicating the number of trees based on the analysis of the appropriate infrastructure plan with tree charting or if necessary, on the result of actual ocular inspection,” Cimatu stated in the July 18 order, tasking CENROs to attend preliminary meetings with DPWH officials to discuss the design of infrastructure projects such that it will consider aiming for the least number of trees that will be affected.

Under the same order, however, the DPWH is still required submit several requirements, including a plan indicating the trees that will be affected by the project, an environmental compliance certificate; and an endorsement from the local government unit. The inventory of the trees to be cut or transferred will serve as the basis for tree replacement, hauling of logs and computation of forest charges, it added.

While environmental groups have decried the easing of the tree-cutting requirements, there is no question that the motorists now utilizing widened highways would back the policy to the fullest. The widened roads have increased the speed at which vehicles are driven and with this come the possibility that the driver, unaware of the tree obstruction ahead, might just ran into the immovable tree.

Already, the DPWH Catanduanes Engineering District headed by District Engineer Gil Augustus Balmadrid has already initiated a meeting with Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Marlon Francia to thresh out the details of how the tree-cutting permits could be issued much faster.

To prevent further delays in the implementation of national road projects, the DPWH should seriously consider the Catanduanes district engineer’s proposal for a nationwide survey of the road right-of-way and indicate therein the trees and structures to be affected. This way, the tree-cutting permit could be filed way ahead of the issuance of the Notice to Proceed and thus avert any delay in project implementation.

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