Structures within protected zone – DENR: Capipian hydro faces environmental hurdle
posted 21-Apr-2019  ·  
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The Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO)’s bid to restart construction of the proposed Capipian mini-hydroelectric plant in San Miguel town has ran into an environmental hurdle, forcing the company to discuss the matter with the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELC0).

Supposed to be completed last December 2018 under the 1st Amendment of the Electricity Supply Agreement between the two parties, the construction of the power plant has not progressed in recent years after typhoons damaged a spillway and roads leading to the site.

In its stead, SUWECO installed several diesel generators at the Solong power plant to supply the power deliverable under the contract.

This unfortunate development was confirmed last week by FICELCO General Manager Engr. Raul Zafe in an interview with the Tribune.

He said that the board has agreed to wait for any development in the Capipian issue within the 120-day extension period requested by SUWECO so it could resolve issues with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

According to a source, SUWECO Business Unit Head Floro Barrameda reportedly wrote FICELCO sometime in January 2019 that while the company has already started procurement for and preliminary work at the Capipian project, it could no longer apply for government permits for the use of the forest land in which the mini-hydroelectric power plant is to be constructed, a source told the Tribune.

Barrameda allegedly blamed the situation on the change in regulation brought about by the enactment of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) Act last year.

The SUWECO official stressed the intention of the company to pursue its commitments under the Amended ESA.

It could either explore all available remedies with respect to the new regulations governing projects within the declared protected area or look for other locations where the same project could be built, Barrameda said.

An official at the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) told the Tribune that while SUWECO has filed an application for a Special Use Agreement covering the Capipial project area years ago, it has yet to submit certain documents including a map showing the exact location of the power plant structures within a thickly forested mountain in sitio Capipian, barangay Paraiso, San Miguel.

The source confirmed that the DENR’s Land Evaluation Section has determined that some of the Capipian structures are located within an old-growth forest.

Under Republic Act 11038, or the (NIPAS) Act, renewable energy projects may be allowed within the protected area but should be outside the Strict Protection Zones.

The Act describes such zones as “possessing some outstanding ecosystem, features and species of flora and fauna of national scientific importance that should be maintained to protect and preserve nature in its undisturbed state and to preserve ecologically representative examples of the natural environment to ensure their availability for scientific study, environmental monitoring, education, and for the maintenance of genetic resources in a dynamic and evolutionary state.”

Assuming that the renewable energy project is outside the strict protection zone, the project shall adopt reduced impact technologies so as not to be detrimental to ecosystem functions, biodiversity, cultural practices and traditions. The proponent is also required by the law to post a sufficient bond with the DENR, with the amount to be based on the estimated cost of damage upon the project’s decommissioning and the cost of rehabilitation.

In June 23, 1987, the national government through Proclamation No. 123 set aside a large portion of the island’s remaining forest land into the Catanduanes Watershed Forest Reserve (CWFR) with a total area of 26,010 hectares covering the towns of Baras, Bato, Caramoran, Gigmoto, San Andres, San Miguel, Virac and Viga.

A check of the zoning map included in the CWFR 5-year Management Plan proposed by the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) in September 2009 showed that part of the Capipian area was already covered by a Strict Protection Zone.

With the signing of the E-NIPAS Act by President Rodrigo Duterte last year, the protected area included in the Catanduanes Natural Park nearly doubled to 48,924.08 hectares where hunting, collecting, possession, killing or disturbing wildlife are prohibited, along with the cutting, gathering timber and other forest products.

Mineral exploration or extraction is also banned within the protected area, along with commercial or large scale quarrying, the law states.

Also banned by the law in the island park are illegal fishing, dumping of toxic chemicals and noxious substances or wastes, operation of motor vehicles except for transportation purposes, altering or removing boundary markers, engaging in “kaingin” or slash-and-burn farming, littering, occupation or construction of structures without clearance, treasure hunting, introduction of exotic species including Genetically-Modified Organisms, and bio-prospecting without prior clearance from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).

The Act provides penalties ranging from P50,000.00 to as much as P6 million for specific violations aside from imprisonment ranging from six to 12 years or both at the discretion of the Courts.

The conviction of a government official for any violation of the law shall also carry the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office.

However, all property and private rights within the protected area and its buffer zones already existing or vested upon the effectivity of the Act shall be protected and respected, provided that the exercise of such rights shall be harmonized with the provisions of the Act.

Within 60 days, an inventory of all existing facilities such as roads, buildings, structures, water systems, transmission lines, communications facilities, heavy equipment and irrigation facilities within the protected area will be conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Located within the park are three mini-hydroelectric power plants, cell sites, water systems and irrigations facilities.

The PAMB, with the assistance of DENR, may impose conditions for the continuous operation of a facility found to be detrimental to the protected area until its eventual relocation. However, existing facilities allowed to remain inside the area shall be charged a reasonable fee by the PAMB based on existing guidelines.

One of the co-authors of the bill, Congressman Cesar Sarmiento, had described it as a victory for the environment and the people as it would make more secure the supply of water for domestic use and assure a reliable supply of electricity from the hydroelectric power plants.

The largest remaining forest in Bicol is home to many threatened and restricted-range wildlife, including the Luzon bleeding heart pigeon, Philippine nectar bat, large Rufous horseshoe bat, mottle-winged flying fox, Southern Luzon giant cloud rat, Philippine warty pig, Philippine brown deer and the narrow-mouthed frog.

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