The collective effort of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and Inabanga Mayor Jose Jono Jumamoy to take a serious look of the environmental impact of the giant Cantakoy Hydro Project in Danao town has earned a generous support from a team of experts from UP-Diliman. This developed even as project proponents in “record time” succeeded in seeking a lift order imposed by the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) suspending the project allegedly due to myriad of violations. With the new twist in the project’s fate, the main oppositors led by Board Members Josephine Socorro Jumamoy and Romulo Cepedoza backed up by the support of the young Inabanga mayor went on overdrive with their propaganda offensive to have the undertaking scrapped altogether. They were apparently emboldened by a recommendation of the Bohol Advisory Council, a group based in UP Diliman to have the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) revoked.
The Council is composed of Jose Abueva, PhD, professor emeritus and former UP president; Ernesto Pernia, professor lecturer, UP School of Economics; Ceasar A. Saloma, professor of Physics, UP Diliman and Ramon Clarete, PhD, professor and director for research UP School of Economics. Together, the four, carefully reviewed the pertinent documents, which were submitted to them for evaluation considering the many controversial issues raised by the various stakeholders. The Bohol provincial board through Gov. Edgar Chatto sought the sound advice of the four UP experts focusing on two critical points “that are central to the whole controversy”. The evaluation report showed that: One, during the ECC screening/pre evaluation process on 5 December 2008, the Cantakoy Hydropower Project was misclassified under Group II.c.2.f (i.e., other thermal power plants, e.g., diesel, bunker oil, coal, etc.), Under such, projects with < 30 MW capacity, only IEE Report with IMP is required to obtain an ECC. Two, during the review of the IEE Report which was based on point no. 1 above, the Recommendation Report of the Technical Review Committee dated 24 June 2009 Section V (Key Basis for the Decision) classified the Cantakoy Project under Group II.c.2.e (hydropower facilities) with impounding capacity of < 20 million cubic meters, in which case, also only IEE Report is required to obtain an ECC.
The same evaluation report showed that had a full EIA been required for this project, other important issues would have been adequately addressed, such as detailed baseline studies on the biophysical setting, flora and fauna, socio-economic aspects of the project, public consultations and public hearings to ensure social acceptability and fairness, quantifications of the impacts (e.g., inundation modeling, flood risk assessment in case of dam breaks, water budget, etc.) on the primary and secondary impact areas, and concrete mitigating measures. The four experts concluded that classifying the Cantakoy Project under Group II.c.2.f (item no. 1 above) is not correct, as this project is not the type of a thermal power plant. Unfortunately, the IEER document has been anchored on this misclassification, such that this 5.2. MW power project appeared small relative to the 30-MW full EIA threshold. They said the project should have been more appropriately classified under Group II.c.2.e (item no. 2 above), However, the impounding capacity has not been clearly specified in the screening and/or pre-evaluation document. Such a figure, if it exceeds 20 million cubic meters, would have determined whether a full EIA study should have been required instead of just an IEE Report. And thus, the Cantakoy Project has not been properly evaluated based on its impounding capacity. It was known only later (i.e., from QuadRiver presentations to the Provincial Development Council Execom) that the impoundment volume will be more than 49 million cubic meters. Clearly, with this volume which needs a full EIA, the >20-km stretch downstream of the dam site traversing the Municipality of Inabanga, may actually be part of the direct impact area and, thus, needs a careful study as well.
The project proponent, Sta. Clara Power Corp. (SCPC) with its partner, Quadriver Energy Corp. (QEC),won a lift order of the suspended project effective June 1, 2012. The lifting came eight days after the issuance of its suspension. EMB Regional Director Fernando Quililan, confirmed the lifting of the suspension order during the session of the Committee of the Whole of the SP last Friday. The SP committee was tasked to look into allegations of impropriety in prosecuting the huge project. In spite of the director’s confirmation, the investigating committee urged the EMB to furnish them with a hard copy on the lifting of the suspension order right there and then but the former failed to produce one. Quililan said that his office has just mailed the copy of the lift order last Wednesday.
Quililan bared that there was what he described as “misappreciation” of the facts when PENRO made the comprehensive monitoring report (CMR) which apparently was the basis of the suspension order he issued. He readily admitted this lapse on the part of the PENRO. Recognized by the presiding officer, Nestor Canda, officer-in-charge, provincial environment and natural resources office (Penro) also expressed regrets on what happened when he made the said report that showed at least nine alleged violations of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) set for the project. Because of what he called as “judgment error” on the part of the Penro, Quililan said that after careful perusal the project has not started yet “actually” or “technically.” But despite the repeated explanation of the director why he lifted the suspension order he himself has issued, the SP members appeared not satisfied of the director’s explanation why he caused the lifting of the suspension. To prove their point that the “project has already begun,” the lawmakers even argued that the opening of the access road leading to the project site was “initiated” by the proponents as can be clearly gleaned on the power point of photos being shot by the investigators who inspected the site earlier. The EMB head, said, however, that he was not convinced that the access road was part of the project as what the SP was trying to convey. Instead, the director stood firm on his action, and told the board the “lifting of the suspension stays.”
While the SP was confronted with the lifting of the suspension order, the law-making body also enlisted the technical capability of two other experts on geological science. There is danger of the project as far as geological issue is concerned, warned Dr. Carlo Arcilla, director, National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Arcilla, together with Dr. Rene Rollon, director of Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, UP, Diliman, Q. C., attended and testified before the investigating SP committee. Presenting a power point, Arcilla said that the proponents should have considered the kind of topography or rock formation of the project site. Based on his studies, the geological formations of project site are mostly karst or limestones that tend to form caverns. The base of the river showed these kind of karst patterns he said. He explained that considering that the project involved water, limestone formations of the project site are “vulnerable” to easily be adversely affected by the water as can be seen in most of the caverns. His findings included the following: “Geology of the area appears to be limestone, with significant caverns. This should be dealt with within a full environmental Impact Study (EIS) investigation. Karst or caverns in limestone will require extensive grouting and could affect construction and project economics significantly.”
“There are concerns regarding accuracy of topographic data in the dam and environs. This has direct implication on the exact area of the flooded upstream portions and affected communities. The upstream flooding could reach seven kilometres --- significantly impacting communities that need to be consulted.” “The impounded water volume (49 million cu. m.) is more than double than that allowed (20 million cu.m.) for a dam that is permitted to only use an Impact Environment Examination (IEE) for its ECC application. The project dam height, the flooding area and areas potentially affected by catastrophic dam failure need to be vetted more carefully.” On transparency, Arcilla said that “the project could help ease power requirements of the province, but will benefit by having a more transparent and rigorous vetting through a full-scale ECC. This is the best way that safety and proper consultation with potentially affected residents can be achieved,” he concluded. For his part, Rollon pointed out that the project should be changed to hydro category to make it a dam project from its status now that is categorized as thermal project. Under the thermal nomenclature, geo-thermal, coal or diesel power project belong to this. He also supported Arcilla’s contention/proposal that the project undergoes a full-blown Environmental Impact Study (EIS) so that everything including flora and fauna in the area and mandatory public consultation, will considered prior to issuance of the ECC. The project, as it appears, had only undergone an IEE that a public consultation may not be necessary, he said.
MAYOR JUMAMOY’S CONCERN
Meanwhile, Inabanga Mayor Jumamoy upped the ante of his opposition to the Cantakoy project citing dangers in the construction of road, dam, surface power house and switch yard, diversion tunnel and channel. He said his worries were anchored on these activities which had direct impact on the environment. He enumerated among the adverse impact as reservoir sedimentation and deterioration of water quality, air and noise pollution and disturbance to flora and fauna by work force, visual intrusion, disturbance of recreational spots (e.g.) waterfalls), soil erosion due to removal of vegetation and excavation of construction material and alteration in ground water flow. Other activities which the mayor said are posing damage to the environment are the construction of transmission line, stream diversion through channel and conduit, ponding, operation of hydro power station and peaking operation of power station. Other activities the mayor were expressing apprehensions were the downriver hydrological changes on the Inabanga side. He said a major downriver hydrological changes can destroy riparian ecosystems dependent on periodic natural flooding, exacerbate water pollution during low flow periods. At the same time, he also mentioned such adverse impact like increase saltwater intrusion near mouths, reduced sediment and nutrient loads downriver of dams, increase river- edge and coastal erosion, damage the biological and economic productivity of rivers and estuaries, induced desiccation of rivers below dams kills fish and other fauna and flora dependent on the river and damage agriculture and human water supplies.