White sand beach a ‘white elephant’?

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

We have a problem. It seems that the mastermind of the P389-million project recreating a strip of Boracay beach on Manila Bay was in a hurry to spread the fake white sand without factoring in the seasonal typhoons wreaking havoc on the beautification effort.

Just one month after some 3,500 metric tons of crushed dolomite rocks were brought in to simulate white sand on 500 meters of the north end of the Roxas Boulevard beachfront, the heavy rains came as scheduled and washed away the particles.

Now somebody has to fix or restore the white sand layer that is being carried away by sea and rain. How soon and how much would the recurring back-job cost taxpayers as typhoons from the Pacific make a beeline for Luzon?

Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources keep explaining that the dolomite particles had not been washed away but were merely dirtied up by the bay’s residual filth whipped up by the waves.

An official dared critics to produce metrics proving that the dolomite had been washed out. He said: “The darkening of the beach is just a deposition of darker-colored material on top of the white sand.”

He did not explain how the lighter-colored dolomite would be coaxed out from under the blackish dirt covering it to bring back the lighter hue of the fake sand.

Is there need to apply a new dolomite layer or to bleach the older dirty deposit? To achieve the desired Boracay effect, how much more will taxpayers have to spend to repair the damage to the fake white beach and the bruised ego of DENR officials?

Will millions be appropriated year after year for the recurring repair and upkeep of the project that has been promoted by the DENR as its prescription for “beach nourishment, coastal restoration and enhancement” of Manila Bay?

For buying and shipping the dolomite sand from Cebu, the department said it spent P28 million. The inadequate preparation indicates that the launching had to be rushed, otherwise the allocated funds would go back to the treasury or be realigned if not spent by yearend.

We see the makings of a “White Elephant” – an ill-conceived big project that cannot be disposed of easily and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is not in proportion to its usefulness. Has anybody in Malacañang caught a whiff of its foul odor?

But with the project already launched, even if haphazardly, we are stuck with it – problems and all. If it proves to be too unwieldy over the long term, how will the DENR drop it or reincarnate it in another viable form?

To assure its technical feasibility and preclude such problems as the dolomite being carried away by the perpetually churning sea, officials should have studied first the current patterns, the rhythm of the tides, the contour of the sea bed and such data.

Per research findings published in 2006, Manila Bay has an average depth of 17 meters and holds a volume of 28.9 billion cubic meters drained to it by 17,000 square-km of watershed area. About 49 percent of the water influx is contributed by the Pampanga River.

In a tempest, how seriously will this big volume of water batter the puny 3,500 metric tons of crushed dolomite? Considering the disproportion, how often would the fake sand quarried from Alcoy, Cebu have to be replenished?

How will gravity (we’re not referring to the gravity of technical problems, but to the gravitational pull to the center of the earth) accelerate the scattering of the dolomite on the downward-sloping seabed and helped along by the currents and the tides? What interventions are needed?

Social media may not always be on point, but it gives timely alerts on potential glitches. On Saturday, @KristonSisoff said on Twitter, for instance: “Manila Bay is currently messier than it was before this latest transformation project. Buoys meant to be wave breakers just left to float away. Dolomite washed. Wouldn’t be surprised if ***** just ran with the cash. Our cash.”

Aerial shots of the bay’s section radiating from the southern corner of the US embassy compound where the dolomite was spread out show the discoloration of the artificial white sand and the breaking up of the geo-tubes strung together to form a wall to secure the dolomite.

We have been lucky that in the past two months, we have not had typhoons generating giant waves that come crashing on the boulevard. When this happens and the angry sea hurls back to the shore the trash and assorted debris dumped into it, what will happen to the dolomite which is alien to the place?

• DENR faces Sisyphean fate with dolomite

The thought of the DENR and its successors forever replenishing the dolomite as it is washed away by the swirling waters and taken down by gravity reminds us of Sisyphus, a figure from Greek mythology whose story we recall to reiterate the lessons it imparts.

As king of Corinth, Sisyphus became infamous for his wickedness and cheating death twice. He ultimately got his comeuppance when Zeus dealt him the punishment of forever rolling a boulder up a hill in the depths of Hades.

When he is almost at the top with his burden, the huge rock would free itself and roll down. And Sisyphus, per his eternal punishment, would again start pushing the same boulder up the hill – only for it to roll down again when almost at the top.

The DENR better look for a way to escape the looming Sisyphean cycle of endlessly replenishing the crushed dolomite boulder long after the money earned from it had been spent.

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Nota Bene: All Postscripts are also archived at manilamail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: [email protected]

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