POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Trees handled properly in SM Baguio upgrade

MISIMPRESSION: One gets the impression from criticisms of SM City Baguio that hundreds of trees will be cut down just to make room for a pay parking building beside the SM mall in the Pines City. As can be expected, tree lovers revolted against the idea.

But actually only 182 trees are affected. And they are not to be cut but earth-balled and replanted under expert supervision. SM executive Annie Garcia said in a radio interview that it took SM more than a year to gain the approval of the authorities to transfer the trees.

Critics went on to complain that SM was secretly earth-balling the pine and alnus trees at night to hide this from the public. The fact is that nighttime balling was a directive of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

DENR Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio clarified that trees have greater chances of survival when re-balled in the cooler night environment than “doing it during the dry, hot summer day.”

Even the work area’s being covered with tarpaulin and fenced off has not escaped notice. This is actually required by law to protect surrounding areas and the public from dirt and debris from the ongoing work.

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EROSION ADDRESSED: The upgrading of SM Baguio is meant to address such major concerns as soil erosion, which experts assessing the project said could compromise the entire mall.

Aside from rip-rapping (concrete walling) to check erosion in the steeply sloping area at the back of the mall, SM Investment Corp. has prepared a plan for a P1.2-billion redevelopment to have a greener mall, decongest traffic, and resolve other problems.

Trees affected have to be relocated, not cut. A two-year monitoring and preventive maintenance program will begin right after the replanting. This is to ensure the highest survival rate for all relocated trees.

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COMMON PRACTICE: Rip-rapping to protect the stability of structures and surroundings is a common engineering practice as can be seen in similar steeply sloping terrain in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Baguio, Tagaytay and other places with rolling or hilly topography.

When Fort Bonifacio, formerly called Fort McKinley, was taken over by a private company in the mid-90s after a fierce bidding, thousands of trees were cut. This was to give way to a new city planned by the winning bidder.

Gone were the 18-hole golf course, the verdant fairways and the old trees surrounding the course as well as those dotting the now private 220-plus-hectare prime property for which the winner paid over P30 billion.

The same fate befell the trees on Villamor (formerly called Nichols) air base when private owners took over. To the South, another firm won the bidding for a government property, the Alabang Stock Farm, where trees also had to give way to new structures.

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OTHER CITIES: In earlier times in different climes, much of Paris in the 1800s was a jungle and a hunting ground of the Capet Kings of France. Versailles was also a forested area.

So was Central Park in Manhattan, where not only trees had to go for aesthetic planning, but also the thousands of illegal settlers living in the 500-acre area.

In Baguio, bidding was held in 1992, after a long government process of preparation, to sell the 30-plus-hectare Pines Hotel property. After SM won the bidding, it developed the complex into a mall with some cottages around it.

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REPLANTING: Before the tree transfer was stopped by a temporary court order in mid-April, DENR Cordillera Director Clarence Baguilat said 40 alnus trees and one pine tree had been transplanted to Luneta Hill in the SM property in the presence of DENR personnel.

Fifty pine saplings are to be planted by SM for every tree transferred, more than twice the number required by DENR. Since 2005, it has planted more than 6,000 pine saplings to help re-green the area and other DENR-designated places in Baguio and Benguet.

Part of the SM redevelopment is a rain-collection system to help control water runoff in and around the property, while providing a secondary water source for the facility’s needs. This reservoir can hold more than 6.9 million liters of water.

When the soil around the mall is saturated during heavy rains, the reservoir acts as a catch basin to prevent water from flooding areas lower than the mall.

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BEYOND THE TREES: The expansion and redevelopment go beyond the tree issues. The renovated mall will be a seven-level open-air retail, dining, and entertainment destination relying almost exclusively on natural ventilation.

The additional parking facility can accommodate at least 1,200 vehicles. The expanded parking area will help ease the traffic congestion in Baguio where cars are normally parked along the road, particularly along the Gov. Park Road.

SM executives said the building phase alone will create more than 1,000 jobs, with another 1,000 positions made available when new establishments are opened in the expansion area.

Already attracting hordes on any day in any weather, an expanded SM will be a better tourist magnet. A landscaped Roof Garden with water features will be a major attraction. Its Green Roof technology will create an environment of lush vegetation growth that is close to how Nature would have it.

Based on the records of the Baguio City government, SM contributes 13 percent of the total income of the city. With the redevelopment, this income share is projected to rise to 15-18 percent.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 1, 2012)

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