DEC 15 — So Singapore is going to build an MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) line through its largest nature reserve — the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Now that doesn’t sound so good; think of all the monkeys and pangolins but the Cross Island Line will not plough directly into the reserve, rather it will go under it.

Planners linked to Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) believe this will make all the difference.

They argue a tunnel in the bedrock 70 metres under the soil and water of the reserve won’t disturb the flora and fauna above.

Many conservationists disagree with this opinion.

Their view is that extensive tunnelling and the work sites and soil sampling needed to create this new line will inevitably disturb the forest above.

When the Cross Island Line’s route was announced over five years ago, a range of environmentalists campaigned to have the route altered.

The Cross Island Line is intended to connect Singapore’s Western (Jurong) and its Eastern (Changi) suburbs more directly.

This means the line will have to run near the centre of the island which is where most of our protected land and reservoirs are.

But environmentalists have argued the proposed line could be altered slightly and run around the Central Catchment Reserve instead of through it.

But the LTA recently announced it would not be altering the route.

Taking the line around the reserve would, according to planners, add to costs and commuter journey times.

The line, therefore, is going to run through the reserve but it’s not all bad news for the environment.

The LTA did engage in extensive consultation with conservationists after the initial outcry and measures to mitigate the line’s impact have been put in place.

The tunnels will be dug to a depth of 70 metres which is more than double the standard depth of MRT tunnels.

Work sites for construction will be situated outside of the reserve, minimising impact within the sanctuary.

The LTA has also announced it plans to keep working with conservation and environmental experts throughout the construction process to ensure there are no significant impact on the Central Catchment ecosystem.

Personally though while I’m pleased that there has been consultation with conservationists, I think the Central Catchment Reserve is something of a red line.

While over 20 per cent of Singapore’s land area is forested, given our island’s small size that isn’t an awful lot of land and not all of that land is protected.

The Central Catchment Reserve is highly protected by a range of laws as it is home to our primary reservoirs and is therefore vital to our security.

It also contains some of the last stretches of undisturbed primary rain forest in Singapore.

Should it not — to the greatest possible extent — remain free of human activity?

Despite consultation with environment-focused groups, in the long term what the impact from train vibrations will be remains just unknown.

The possibility of accidents and the contamination of water sources and soil from construction and line maintenance cannot be ruled out.

So why not simply leave the area alone? There will perhaps be more costs and longer commutes but soil, water and oxygen-giving plants are vital for us all.

Ultimately, my worry is this will set a precedent.

If the Central Catchment reservoir can be subject to development, what about more marginal areas like Mandai?

After all, every scrap of land in Singapore is in demand.

It is challenging for governments to balance development and conservation — these decisions are important and need to be very carefully made.

Perhaps, as a people, we should decide: should some areas just be off limits?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.