Ecological impact near canal

The devastation of hundreds of hectares of forests very close to the watershed of the Panama Canal and its buffer zone has outraged the Panamanians.

Every day, residents, ecologists and drivers who frequent the area realize how the site loses its greenness and, in turn, question the role of entities such as the Ministry of Environment (Miambiente) , the Ministry of Public Works (MOP) and including the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) .

Currently, there are 5 pubic project in these forests that are in or very close to the Canal watershed and that have impacted or left an imprint on 473 hectares. This is almost 10 times the recreational park Omar, in the corregimiento of San Francisco.

The projects are: the construction of the Gamboa water treatment plant, the Panama Pacifico interchange, line 3 of the Panama Metro, the expansion of the Omar Torrijos highway and the expansion of the Pan-American highway from the Las Americas bridge to Arraiján. It was the Ministry of the Environment itself that specified the number of hectares impacted by these works, although it assured that it carries out "control inspections" in the construction of these road and potable water developments.

According to Miambiente, as well as the Canal expansion project, whose footprint was 142 thousand hectares, these works are inspected by the Environmental Performance Verification Directorate, in compliance with the measures of forest compensation and rescue of flora and fauna .

With respect to forest compensation, the environmental regulation establishes that 10 trees must be planted for each tree felled. Precisely, on this point, Miambiente explained that the forest compensations for these constructions began in Arraiján and Chame, in the province of Panamá Oeste.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) clarified that the data of 142 thousand hectares provided by the Ministry of Environment is "erroneous" and that the vegetation footprint affected by the extension program was 692 hectares, composed of mature forest and secondary forest, which required that the double be compensated with a reforestation program in the national territory.

"The implementation of the Canal expansion project was preceded by an exhaustive process of public consultation and referendum at the national level, with the approval of approximately 77% of the voters," he said.

Regarding the questioned expansion project of the Omar Torrijos road, the ACP informed that the MOP requested a "compatibility permit", which was granted on June 26, 2012, subject to strict compliance with the environmental terms and conditions and not the operation of the interoceanic way will be affected.

Then, on the recommendation of the Reverted Property Administrative Unit of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the MOP requested an update of the compatibility permit, due to a modification of the original route.

This modification was approved by the ACP on June 23, 2016, under the same terms and conditions of the original permit.

Both residents of Ancon and environmentalists, question the works, so damaging they can be for the water basin of the Canal, one of the main assets of the country.

For organizations such as the Association of Canal Area Communities, it is regrettable how hundreds of hectares of forest are being lost with the permission of the authorities.

Meanwhile, the former director of the Legal Directorate of the defunct Environment Authority Harley Michell Jr. underscored that these works affect all environmental protection criteria: health, protected areas, social and archaeological criteria and environmental studies had to be prepared category III, instead of I or II.

"A category III study would have ensured citizen participation that did not occur in these works, because, for example, the widening project of the Omar Torrijos road came to the residents of the area as a rumor and then, as a surprise. Now it’s a sad reality, "he added.