Depleted quarry sites affecting gov’t projects
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With the only approved quarry site for construction aggregates at Pajo river almost depleted, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will start using sand and gravel imported from the mainland beginning 2019.

This was the dire assessment of DPWH Catanduanes OIC-District Engineer Gil Augustus Balmadrid during last week’s meeting called by Acting Governor Shirley Abundo to discuss issues affecting the extraction of quarry resources.

Present during the meeting last April 25, 2019 at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan session hall were Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) regional director Guillermo Molina IV, officials from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) led by Supervising Ecosystems Management Specialist Yolanda Sa-ong, and barangay officials of areas where quarrying has been permitted by the provincial government.

DE Balmadrid said that the quarry resources at Simamla will be gone by the end of the year while the Pajo river area downstream of Sto. Domingo bridge is already suffering from over-extraction, particularly due to absence of flooding to replenish the river bed.

It may be recalled that several years ago, a Chinese construction company extracted about 20,000 cubic meters of aggregates from the river bed, using backhoes and other equipment to dig deep into the river. As a result, most of the stretch subjected to quarrying are now deep pools where people are discourages from swimming.

The gravel aggregates from Pajo river are the only ones that have passed DPWH quality testing for use in multi-story structures and road concreting projects. Sand and gravel from other rivers in the province have to be thoroughly cleaned to remove silt and debris.

For 2019, the DPWH has mandated the use of Pajo gravel and sand imported from Albay in school building projects as it is crucial to maintain structural integrity of public buildings.

But with the foreseen depletion of quality gravel from local quarries, the department will begin utilizing the more expensive gravel and sand from the mainland which have to be loaded into a barge for the sea voyage across the Maqueda channel.

DE Balmadrid said the lack of aggregates is not confined to Catanduanes, as Camarines Sur, Palawan and other areas are also suffering from the same problem.

Another possibility could be the use of DPWH dredging machines to recover sand at the mouth of the Bato river and other waterways but it could prove to be expensive.

The issue regarding the quarry resources, as well as alleged complaints regarding the difficulty in securing quarry permits, reached Malacañang two months ago, with Presidential Adviser for Bicol Affairs Marvel Clavecilla calling Catanduanes officials from the capitol, DPWH and a contractors’ representative to a meeting in Naga City.

It was suggested that the relatively untouched area upstream of Buyo be considered for the establishment of an industrial extraction of aggregates, in order to justify the construction of a paved road from Bigaa to Buyo and then from Buyo to the national road junction at Palta Small via Simamla. Thje road would be at least 11 inches thick so it could absorb the weight of fully-loaded dump trucks with volumes of 30 to 40 cubic meters. The two roads would cost no less than P300 million.

This early, the DPWH regional office replied to DE Balmadrid’s query on the proposal that the department would be not be implementing new road projects for 2020.

On the other hand, it was pointed out by the PENRO officials that Buyo and Dugui are covered by the Catanduanes Natural Park established by the national government last year where no mineral or quarry extraction will be allowed.

Any quarry activity in the protected area will have to be approved by the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) chaired by the DENR regional director, which is set to hold its 2nd quarterly meeting this May 17.

In anticipation of the possibility of favorable action by the Board, DE Balmadrid asked the PENRO to determine the actual boundary line of the CNP as far as the Buyo river is concerned so that the area as well as the volume of quarry resources could be estimated.

MGB Dir. Molina said the Buyo area will be the subject of an assessment to be conducted in the next two weeks by a team that would include a geologist. Should the PAMB favor the extraction of gravel upstream of Buyo, a buffer zone will have to be established where no quarrying will be allowed, he added.

Acting Gov. Abundo said earlier that while she has received complaints from many barangay officials regarding quarry operations, the local government cannot avoid granting permits as it would affect the implementation of infrastructure projects.

“We have to balance the issues,” she stressed. “The refusal to grant access to quarry areas has to have a valid reason.”

Acting on the complaints, an inter-agency team monitored quarry sites upstream of Pajo river last Mar. 21, 2019 generally found that the quarry permittees were operating in compliance with the conditions that turbid water was confined by isolating the area being extracted from the flowing clear water.

It also found that no DPWH or irrigation projects were adversely affected by the operations.


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