There was some good news for environmentalists, preservationists and Aborigines this week — not from the central government, but from the Pingtung County Government — which stood up for common sense and a sense of history, and against ill-planned development for development’s sake. Let’s hope the central government takes note and follows suit.
A county review committee has designated 841.3 hectares of public land as a nature reserve to preserve the Alangyi Trail, a 12km-long coastline trail that had been threatened by the planned construction of a section of Provincial Highway No. 26 that would have run alongside the trail, destroying the pristine nature of the area and threatening the hundreds of species of flora and fauna that find a home there, including the endangered green sea turtle.
The trail was established in the 1870s by Aborigines, who used it to travel along the Pacific coast between what is now Hengchun (恆春) in Pingtung County and Taitung County.
Last July, the Pingtung County Government designated the area around the portion of the trail under its jurisdiction a temporary nature reserve. Now that designation has been made permanent — under the guidelines of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保留法). It covers the area from Syuhai Village (旭海) in Pingtung to Nantian Village (南田).
It has been a long battle to save the last 1 percent of natural coastline in the nation, going back almost a decade, since the highway construction project passed an environmental impact assessment in 2002. You have to wonder if any of the people on the assessment committee had ever been down to the trail, to see what they were willing to sign away.
The eastern coastline is one of Taiwan’s most beautiful features; it is also the most frequently lashed by typhoons. The result is, unfortunately, that if you drive along the coast, much of what you can see is now “protected” by concrete tetrapods and other barriers.
In a bid to entice more tourists to the east coast, several developments along the coast of Hualien County and Taitung are either underway or in the planning process, including the much-derided and condemned Meiliwan Resort Hotel at Shanyuan Bay and other recreational parks and hotels. So not only will there be a long link of concrete structures along the coastline, concrete will cover much of the land as well. Paving over natural scenery and resources is not the way to attract tourists.
All too often these development projects have been dropped on local communities in the name of national development, with little regard to their feelings and wants. Complaints are brushed aside with the excuse that approval of such development projects has been made in accordance with the law.
However, adherence to the law, especially the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法) and the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法), appears be cursory at best, even though developers always complain of excessive red tape. The required public hearings are not held, or held after a decision to proceed has already been made, while the need for the consent and participation of local Aboriginal residents is treated with perfunctory disdain.
Last year, environmentalists and other activists scored a victory when the Kuokuang Petrochemcial Technology Co project in a wetland area of Changhua County on the west coast was scrapped in April because of concerns over water consumption, land subsidence and pollution in such an ecologically sensitive area. That too was a victory of common sense over over-development.