Tuesday, April 10, 2007

S'pore may reopen Ubin granite quarry

10 April 2007
Straits Times
Tan Hui Yee

Limited quarrying to be done to test feasibility of restarting operations

SINGAPORE is looking to reopen a former granite quarry in Pulau Ubin to pave the way for a local source of the rock.

This move is in addition to others being taken to guard against future disruption in supplies, following Indonesia's detaining of barges and tugboats carrying granite here.

The detention of the more than 20 vessels came a few weeks after Indonesia banned the export of land sand. The combined effect of the supply dip in sand and granite hiked the price of ready-mixed concrete to about $200 per cubic metre - almost three times.

Sand and granite are key ingredients in concrete.

The detention of the barges has also made tugboat owners wary about carrying granite to Singapore, although Indonesia has not officially banned the export of granite.

Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu, speaking in Parliament yesterday, said her ministry would keep all its options open and plan for all contingencies.

One of these options was to tap local sources of granite should the need arise. But before this can be done, the Government needs to carry out limited quarrying work to understand the issues involved in restarting work in former quarries.

The Housing Board has identified Pulau Ubin's Kekek Quarry for this purpose.

Ms Fu assured the House that the discharge of water from the quarry pit will be managed to protect marine life, blasting work will be restricted to weekdays and the day time, and the area will be rehabilitated once quarrying is over to preserve the flora and fauna there.

She also stressed that Pulau Ubin will continue as a leisure spot.

The planned quarry, Kekek, is among the smallest of seven former quarries on Ubin. Quarrying activities in Singapore last ceased in 1999 when it became more economical to import granite from Indonesia.

Meanwhile, granite has been arriving without a hitch from other sources in the region, even as the ministry has been working to increase the number of these sources.

In response to MP Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), who asked what was being done to prevent construction firms from jacking up prices without reason, Ms Fu said the Government was releasing suitable sites for the manufacture of ready-mixed concrete.

Some contractors have said that producing their own ready-mixed concrete would help them get around possible profiteering by those who supply concrete, or sand and granite.

About 10 ready-mixed concrete manufacturers are in business here.

Construction group Lian Beng's director, Mr Tan Swee Hong, said of producing his own concrete: 'This will put pressure on the ready-mixed concrete makers, as well as the sand and granite suppliers. I can always say 'I'll import the material myself'.'

In the House yesterday, MPs Lee Bee Wah (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) asked whether the prices of sand and granite released from the Government stockpile could be cut.

Stockpiled sand is now being sold at $60 per tonne, compared to its pre-ban market price of about $20, while stockpiled granite is now going at $70 per tonne, up from its previous price of about $25.

Replying, Ms Fu said stockpiled sand and granite was being priced at what it would cost to replenish the stockpile from various sources.

The private sector is also being encouraged to import its own supplies.

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