Thu, Jun 30, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Sad destruction of the east coast

By Tai Hsing-sheng 戴興盛

Taiwan’s east coast has been subjected to a string of development projects that exploit the land and disregard environmental justice. Now, as the nation gets caught up in a rush to develop tourism, one more construction plan has been added to this sad list. On May 30, a meeting was called in Sansiantai Borough (三仙台) in Taitung County’s Chenggong Township (成功), at which local residents were told that an environmental impact assessment for a building project in the area had been completed and that construction work would start after one week. Stunned by the sudden announcement, local residents demanded that the departments responsible for the project hold a second public meeting to better explain what impact the project would have. However, the departments in charge said that there was no reason to hold another meeting and that they were not duty-bound to do so because the required procedures had already been completed.

Serious problems are evident in several aspects of this case.

The project development site is located in the famous Sansiantai scenic area. Although the area is well-known, most people are probably not aware that the east coast’s last remaining intact coral reef is just nearby. This is the most beautiful diving spot on the east coast and it is an important haven for marine resources that are shared by Aborigines and fishermen. Studies by the Eastern Marine Biology Research Center of the Fisheries Research Institute and by members of Academia Sinica show that this small stretch of sea is home to 2.5 percent of the nation’s fish fry and fingerlings. They recommended that it be designated a marine conservation area. Unfortunately, the coral reef has already been degraded by mud and sand washed down from building sites on adjacent land and by overfishing. There is good reason to worry that the 12 hectare resort development project, in the course of its construction and future operation, will cause more damage to the coral reef and that the reef will be completely ruined.

Then there is the question of social justice. The Jihuei (基翬) Aboriginal settlement is just uphill from the resort development site. The settlement is classified as a general conservation area, so there are many restrictions on building there. Jihuei residents are not even allowed to rebuild their houses if they are damaged. This stands in stark contrast to the green light given for this major development project in a neighboring conservation area.

This has triggered a backlash from Amis Aborigines who live in Jihuei. The authorities say that approval for the development project has been handled according to the law. If that is so, it seems to lend support to the accusations by Aborigines that while they frequently get in trouble with the law for using natural resources, it is considered legal when it is the state and big businesses — the super “rats” gnawing away at the mountains and polluting the sea — that are the ones doing so.

Besides, has proper procedure really been followed in relation to this case? There are two good reasons to doubt it.

First, according to Article 164 of the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法): “The decision on an administrative planning that relates to specified utilization of land situated in specific districts or the construction of major infrastructures, which involves persons with diverse interest and the powers of a multiple number of administrative authorities, may be finalized only through open process and after the holding of a hearing proceeding.” The current project and the plan to build a hotel in the Sansiantai scenic area have been major items on the agenda of the authorities concerned for many years, but when, if ever, did they make the process open or hold a public hearing?

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