Robertson Quay restaurants claim stench from river affecting business

You are dining al fresco by the river, tourists at the next table are taking in the tropical night scene, a gentle breeze blows — and suddenly, there is a smell from the river.

It is pungent and will not go away; and the night is ruined. This has been the scene along the Singapore River recently, in particular at Robertson Quay.

The river’s brackish waters may have needed more cleaning up, but for the past year, the offending smell was akin to a fly in the soup for food and beverage outlets at the quay. Until three months ago.

Businesses at the quay say the stink has been wafting in daily, instead of once every few days.

“It’s becoming horrendous, especially after it rains,” said waitress Henrietta Martinez, 19, from the Brussel Sprouts restaurant. “Some customers ask to be moved to a table inside the restaurant.”

Said Brassiere Wolf senior captain Julie Zainudin, 27: “Nowadays, after the rain, the river turns brown. It is very unsightly.”

In February, Robertson Quay’s management notified the Public Utilities Board (PUB) of the smell.

The agency in charge of Singapore’s waterways investigated and found the stench occurred when water levels were low, exposing years of deposits and sediment accumulated along the riverbank.

“Robertson Quay is upstream and located at the bend of the river. There tends to be more deposits collecting there,” PUB catchment and waterways director Tan Nguan Sen told TODAY.

Downstream, the sediments are more diluted. Tenants at Clarke Quay say they can detect a smell, but it’s not very pungent, and customers rarely gripe about it.

At Boat Quay, tenants say the pong is nearly non-existent.

A PUB contractor has carried out works to remove the deposits and sediment at the heavily-silted areas and is monitoring the situation closely. Still, there is a lingering smell; a second round of dredging starts this week, to be completed by the month’s end.

The PUB has also tried to maintain a high water level whenever possible to avoid exposure of the sediment bed for prolonged periods of time.

The 15 or so Robertson Quay pubs and restaurants located along the river, the hardest-hit, could potentially play a part to improve the situation if they work with Waterways Watch, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to keep Singapore’s waterways clean and free from pollution through patrols and public education.

It runs a programme called Friends of the Marina Association, in which participants contribute $120 a year as a form of financial support as well as display the organisation’s pamphlets and posters at their premises.

But response has been dismal, said Waterways Watch chairman Eugene Heng, 59. “We visited them, sent letters to them, but they were not interested,” he said.

There are only four Friends of the Marina despite efforts to reach out to about 200 businesses.

Only one, Japanese restaurant Sangokushi Ryoriya, is on Robertson Quay. Red House Seafood Restaurant manager Peter Chang, 58, told TODAY the fee should be borne by the quay’s strata management.

“We pay them a monthly maintenance fee (of close to $10,000), so, this should come under them,” he said.

For residents living along that stretch, the smell seems less of a bother. River Place is one of three condominiums located along the river and resident Maria Eugenia, 46, said she only catches a whiff of it occasionally, when she is on her way home or out.

“But I don’t smell it every day, so, it’s not that much of a problem for me,” she said.

Source : Today – 20 May 2008

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