Monday, April 16, 2007

Reopening of Kekek Quarry on Pulau Ubin: No Cause for Worry

16 Apr 07
The New Paper
By Teh Jen Lee

WITH the reopening of Kekek Quarry for granite mining on Pulau Ubin, the island will once again live up to its name. The word 'ubin' means tile in Malay. Ubin was apparently named after the stone tiles that it produced before the last quarry shut down in 1999.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will have limited quarrying works at Kekek Quarry, the smallest of the seven former quarries on Ubin, located near the northern coast of the island.

This is done to understand the issues involved to restart work at other quarries since Singapore wants to ease its dependence on imported granite.

Kekek was chosen as it is furthest from the resident villages and Chek Jawa, the popular nature haven.

Residents of Ubin seem unaffected by the quarry's reopening. Madam Chen Siuzhen, 70, who has lived in Ubin since young, said in Mandarin: 'We stay far away from the quarry so we won't be affected.'

A resident of Ubin's Malay village who gave his name as Mr Ahmad said: 'I feel it's good because with more people working here, the ferry service may become more regular.'

From the choice of quarry to the details of the quarrying, BCA has tried to make the granite mining operations as safe and eco-friendly as possible.

For example, signs in the four main languages will update the public on the blasting schedule so that people can stay away from the quarry. Barricades will also be erected during blasting.

BCA will work with the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ensure that the mining will not affect the environment. NEA will assess the pollution control measures related to the crushing plant, which crushes big rock pieces into smaller stones, to ensure that noise and dust levels are managed. Water sprays and noise mufflers will be used where necessary.

A jetty will be constructed less than 200 metres from the quarry so that barges can be used to transport the granite to mainland.


This means there won't be any heavy noisy trucks carrying the granite, thus reducing impact on the residents and wildlife at Ubin.

When quarrying is completed, the area will be rehabilitated and restored to preserve its rustic nature, said Mr Ong See Ho, director of BCA's building engineering division.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has surveyed Kekek and found that mining will have minimal impact on the diversity of plants and animal species.

There are 153 plant species around Kekek, most of which can be found in other parts of Singapore. Less common trees like the seashore nutmeg will be relocated to other parts of Ubin where possible.

As for wildlife, the 57 bird species found at Kekek are also found elsewhere, said NParks.

Based on NParks observations, made at Ketam Quarry in 1999, when the quarry was still functional, the sound blasts from limited quarrying does not affect wildlife on the island.

Work at Kekek is expected to start early next month.

Meanwhile, Singapore has started to buy granite from various regional countries. Industry sources said Singapore has been been trying to get granite from Vietnam and Myanmar. Shipments started arriving last month.

Granite is an essential component of concrete, along with sand. Since the supply of sand and granite have been disrupted, the price of ready-mixed concrete has skyrocketed from about $70 per cubic metre to over $180.

In the past week, two Japanese trade organisations complained to BCA about profiteering by concrete suppliers. The Japanese External Trade Organisation and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry also urged the Government to quickly compensate contractors who lose out on public projects because of the increase in prices.

To help the construction industry to cope with the increase in prices of concreting sand and granite, the Government will co-share up to three quarters of the increased costs for its ongoing projects. Sand used to cost about $20 a tonne, but now it's $60. A tonne of granite now costs $70, compared to $25 in the past.

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