SAN MIGUEL Corp. (SMC) is expecting its Tullahan River dredging and expansion project to help solve the flooding concern in Bulacan — the location of its planned P734-billion “aerotropolis.”

In a statement Monday, the listed conglomerate said its P1 billion investment in the Tullahan-Tinajeros River System dredging project will help ease the flow of water to the Manila Bay.

It said the buildup of garbage and silt at Tullahan is clogging the 36.4-kilometer river, making Bulacan a victim of flooding during typhoons and heavy rains.

“First, we will take out the garbage, and then we will deepen the river so water can move more freely to the Manila Bay,” SMC President and Chief Operating Officer Ramon S. Ang said in the statement. “This project (will) address the problems of the Tullahan river.”

The project was recently launched in a program with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources together with local executives from Navotas, Malabon, Valenzuela, and Bulacan.

SMC announced as early as March 2019 the allocation of P1 billion to support the cleanup of Tullahan River. This is originally a government initiative to help rehabilitate Manila Bay.

But as SMC awaits the start of construction for its airport project in Bulacan, Mr. Ang said the dredging of Tullahan River will also play a role in making the airport project viable.

“For our part, we assure you, this will not be a one-time project. We will also do continuous yearly maintenance, and the dredging equipment we have bought will not be removed here anymore,” Mr. Ang said. He was referring to the backhoes with barges, 55-tonner cranes, tugboats and dump trucks that SMC acquired for the Tullahan River dredging.

In an effort to appease groups that are protesting the construction of the Bulacan airport due to possible environmental harm, Mr. Ang said the airport “will not worsen flooding in Bulacan” and “will actually solve it.”

He said foreign consultants have already started studying the flooding situation in Bulacan and identified rivers, creeks, tributaries and bodies of water that need to be worked on — whether by cleaning, deepening, widening or improving — to solve the flooding.

“We will expand our dredging and clean-up operations to include these bodies of water, and provide a long-term and sustainable solution to flooding in Bulacan,” Mr. Ang said.

“In the first place, foreign banks will not lend money for such major projects if they are not assured that you have addressed all environmental risks,” he added.

The Bulacan airport project is set to start construction this year. It covers a 2,400-hectare airport with four parallel runways (expandable to six), eight taxiways and three passenger terminal buildings, with an annual passenger capacity of 100 million travelers.

Shares in SMC lost 60 centavos or 0.45% to P132.40 each on Monday. — Denise A. Valdez