To gain a deeper understanding of what is really going on at Cingjing (清境), a mountain area in Nantou County, I visited the area on a recent weekend. I listened to the views of the people doing business there and inquired about the development of bed-and-breakfast establishments in the area, with the aim of finding a pragmatic way to solve the problems at Cingjing and in the hope of educating the public about proper, legal ways to carry out hillside development.
Aerial photographs from 1979 show that back then, all that was in the area was Cingjing Farm (清境農場), which belonged to the Veterans Affairs Council, and three major villages for Nationalist-led guerrilla troops evacuated from Burma in the late 1940s during the Chinese Civil War.
Aerial photographs from 1991 show that both sides of Provincial Road 14A were used for farming; photographs taken in 2002 also show no bed-and-breakfasts there. It is only in aerial photographs from the past three years that show how bed-and-breakfasts have started to spring up along both sides of Provincial Road 14A.
These photographs show that the development of the Cingjing area is linked with changes in the nation’s socioeconomic situation and laws. During the 1970s, Taiwan was still under martial law and all development was controlled and limited. As a result, the Cingjing area only had a few villages for military families. When the economy boomed in the 1980s and 1990s, the government opened up hillsides to farming, and cabbage farms mushroomed in Cingjing,
People started converting hillside farmhouses into bed-and-breakfasts when the government began allowing farmland to be privately owned and state-owned land to be rented out. Cingjing’s bed-and-breakfasts have only become a problem in the last decade and they are a different issue from the buildings that have existed in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Jiufen (九份) area since 1979.
There are at least three distinct groups involved in the problems in Cingling. The first group is associated with the military villages that have been there for a long time; the second group is associated with the vegetable farms; and the third group is associated with the bed-and-breakfasts. While these groups face the same potential geological risks, each of them should be handled differently in accordance with different applicable laws. For example, demolitions should not be the first choice of action for dealing with the military villages.
Bed-and-breakfasts are the group that has received the most attention, and based on geological information I gathered at these establishments, the majority are built on steep slopes along both sides of the main road.
This leads to three main problems. First, almost none of these establishments conform with the building laws that came into existence after 2001. Second, almost none of them have submitted soil and water conservation plans, and hardly any soil and water conservation equipment can be found at these sites. And third, the lower parts of the slopes are often used for farming by different landowners, and bed-and-breakfasts and vegetable fields must interact to ensure hillside safety.
A professional judgement is that there is no legal reason the bed-and-breakfasts should exist at all. However, knocking them all down because everyone is now aware of the danger may cause more trouble than the good it would bring, as evidenced by the recent relocation of the Lushan (廬山) hot spring area in Nantou County. The government could use a combination of policies and fines in place of demolition, including levying taxes on development in hillside areas and making safety, and soil and water conservation measures mandatory for hillside developments.