SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said the agency has told project proponent Grand Utopia, Inc. that the trees should be saved and incorporated in the development plan, which will be subject to SBMA review.
“We won’t stand for the cutting of trees. Definitely, we won’t allow it,” Arreza clarified.
He added that a news report saying that the project would destroy some 300 trees in the two-hectare site is speculative.
The report quoted architect Jun Palafox, who said that he was initially tapped to design the project but backed out when he found out that the management “intended to cut the trees.”
Arreza said, however, that he did not know why the deal between Palafox and Grand Utopia fell through.
“But the trees are still there, because all that the developer has done at this time was to fence in the area and inventory the number of trees preparatory to balling, which was the procedure we have recommended,” Arreza said.
“It’s pure speculation that 300 trees will be destroyed because, in fact, Grand Utopia has already applied for a permit to ball the trees,” he added.
Arreza also pointed out that the area, which previously contained a mini-golf course built during US Navy Days, has been classified under SBMA zoning regulations as a commercial area.
“It’s true that because of the density of the trees at the mini-golf course, our Ecology Center has classified that part of the site as an urban jungle. But it’s still within the commercial zone where development is allowed,” he explained.
“This is why the recommendation from Ecology was to incorporate the trees in the development plan, or if that won’t be possible, to ball the trees and transfer them to a new location,” Arreza said,
The SBMA Ecology Center said that several mature trees affected by development projects in the Subic Bay Freeport have been successfully transferred.
Technicians at the Center said balling is “relatively a simple procedure”, although the recovery stage for relocated trees “would be the hard part.”
“But we’ve been doing it,” they added.
The Center also said the SBMA has required developers to provide replacements on a ratio ranging from 10 to 50 saplings for each affected tree. On top of this, developers pay a considerable amount for the maintenance of saplings.
Arreza said the Grand Utopia project, which will be known as the Ocean 9 Casino and Hotel Resort, is considered to be a critical infrastructure in Subic’s bid to attract more foreign tourists to the growing number of holiday destinations in this free port.
The hotel will be located near Subic’s Alava Pier, which is being developed by another firm as a passenger terminal for cruise ships.
The casino-hotel resort is expected to employ more than 5,000 workers once operational. The project is scheduled for completion within two years.