The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) recently passed an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the controversial construction of a stretch of road on Route 26 between Nantien (南田) and Hsuhai (旭海). Although this would complete the island circuit highway network, it would also have an impact on the historically significant Alangyi Trail (阿朗壹古道) between the Hengchun (恆春) peninsula and Peinan (卑南), the most beautiful and untouched stretch of coastline in Taiwan. Studies have shown that the road, if built, will have three main effects. First, it will reduce car journeys by 40 minutes, second, it will boost local tourism revenue and third, it will serve as an alternative route to the South Link Highway.
The importance of the modest saving on car journeys is purely subjective and the idea that the road would serve as an alternative route is pure conjecture. To date, there has been no credible evidence presented that it will be safer than the South Link after the latter has been widened. The other question is, will people turn up if the road is built? If they don’t, the local economy clearly will not benefit.
We offer the three following reasons for objecting to the construction of the road, based on a practical field survey.
First, there is the cultural and historical significance of the Alangyi Trail. The trail was a major transport route between the Hengchun Peninsula and Taitung for many Aboriginal tribes, including the Paiwan, Amis and Beinan, and as such has huge historical significance for our understanding of their development and of the region as a whole.
The second reason is the natural scenery. The Alangyi coastline is Taiwan’s sole remaining stretch of natural coastline and the area’s strata tells us abut the geological history of the locale. It is also the site of the best examples of and the most easily accessible coastal rock formations, making the site important for research purposes. The topography is varied along this stretch of coast, with waterfalls, sand dunes, estuaries, shingle beaches, reefs and headlands offering scenes of infinite interest.
The third reason is the natural ecology. The coastal region is home to a complex ecology. The Alangyi Trail covers a very narrow catchment area, but the fact that it is completely untouched makes it not only valuable, but rare. Once the road is finished it will cut straight through the site, isolating both sides. The local fauna, such as the green turtle and the coconut crab, will be seriously affected, as will the vegetation, which will face an unprecedented threat as tourists gain easier access.
With the support of the Forestry Bureau we have already embarked upon a comprehensive survey and documentation of valuable scenic areas and are set to start work on conservation efforts. Although the draft coastal law is still languishing in the legislature, either the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保存法) or the Geology Act (地質法) suffice as the legal basis for conservation work. There is absolutely no need to wait until it’s too late.
This is why the EPA — which should be championing the cause of environmental protection, not acting as its scourge (the clue is in the name), and the Directorate General of Highways should take another look at the road proposals. The local governments concerned should also be more proactive in the conservation of the coastline along the Alangyi Trail, to encourage ecological tourism in the area and promote the local culture and economy. The more of Taiwan’s natural environment we conserve, the more of our history and collective memory we preserve.