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Ecological woes hinder expansion of airport near Boracay

January 13, 2010 5:31pm

Tags: Boracay
Every summer, 22-year old Markus Sevilla goes to Boracay with his friends. But he often complains about the long and inconvenient route from the Kalibo Airport to the Caticlan pier, the gateway to the world-famous island which is known for its powdery beaches.

This month, the much-awaited expansion of the Caticlan airport will finally start, upgrading it to international standards, said Aklan Gov. Carlito Marquez.

“It will help us achieve our goal of having one million tourists each year," Marquez said in an interview with GMANews.TV.

The airstrip, which can only service small turbo-propeller aircraft, will be widened to cater to jet airliners, he added. Last year, only two airlines could fly to Caticlan, leaving hundreds of thousands of tourists no other choice but to travel to Boracay via the Kalibo Airport, an hour-and-a-half drive to the Caticlan jetty port.

BORACAY MAP: The upgraded Caticlan Airport is expected to draw more tourists to the famed Boracay Island because it will cut down travel time. Google Maps

Tourists like Sevilla are looking forward to the new airport. “The expansion makes our trip more convenient and it saves time," an optimistic Sevilla said.

But when he learned that a nearby hill would have to be leveled to extend the runway of the airstrip, he said authorities should rethink their plans.

Chopping off the hill

The expansion of the Caticlan Airport involves the extension of the length of its runway from 890 meters to 1,900 meters, in order to accommodate Airbus A320 jetliners. But the plan requires chopping off a section of a 45-meter hill on the eastern side that blocks one end of the current airstrip.

Sevilla’s concerns about the plan were raised earlier by Dr. Ricarte Javellosa of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Mines and Geosciences Bureau, who said leveling the hill would pose threats to Boracay’s beaches.

“That particular hill is a climate barrier that deflects and converts strong monsoon winds into gentle breezes that swirl and loiter along the beaches of Boracay and Caticlan," he said in a newspaper interview last December.

Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate oversight committee on Climate Change, has also warned that leveling the hill would trigger a “micro-climatic change" that will have a negative impact on Aklan’s “forests, wetland, and water quality."

The airport is located on the northwestern section of Aklan province. Tourist arriving at the Caticlan airport only have to travel for ten minutes on land transportation to the pier, where they take a 20-minute boat ride to Boracay island.

The DENR has issued an Environmental Clearance Certificate for the airport expansion, paving the way for the Caticlan International Airport Development Corp. (CIADC) to begin the P2.5-billion project, Marquez said.

In a news report, CIADC president Lino Barte has been quoted as saying that leveling one-third of the hill would take about three months. The entire airport expansion project will take about seven years to complete, he said.

Best thing for Boracay

Governor Marquez has downplayed the protests about the airport expansion, saying the the leveling of the hill is limited and would not affect the “climatic and environmental integrity of Caticlan and Boracay."

He added, “Tuloy na tuloy na itong project. We will only order CIADC to stop the project if the DENR revokes the ECC."

One of the tourism pioneers in Boracay, Waling-Waling Resort owner Orlando Sacay, also supported the expansion, saying it will enhance the popularity of Boracay as a major tourist destination.

He said the planned upgrade “is the best thing to happen to Boracay," and if there was one problem the plan would create, it would be the imminent influx of tourists to the island.

“The new Caticlan Airport will bring in more tourists, thus Boracay has to be more strict in enforcing rules and regulations. That’s the only environmental concern. But if you’ll ask me, people in Boracay are all for it (expansion)," he said. – YA, GMANews.TV
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Tags: Boracay