Wed, Apr 03, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Lines in the sand

In the first of a two-part series, contributing reporter Sam Sky Wild investigates the controversy surrounding construction of the Miramar Resort Village in Shanyuan Bay, Taitung County

By Sam Sky Wild  /  Contributing reporter

Work on the hotel finally began in 2005 amid widespread anger over the impact of the hotel’s construction. Of particular concern to protest groups was the fact that because the resort itself occupies an area of 9997-square meters — one sixth of the beach’s total area — it did not have to undergo an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as this is reserved exclusively for projects of more than one-hectare in size. The Mirimar Hotel was just three-square meters too small.

TENSE DEBATE

However, later that year the hotel developers applied for an extension of the original site to include the entire beach, said a source close to the hotel project who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the project. The purpose of the plan, the source indicated, was to allow the hotel to potentially have additional chalets on the beachside property at some point in the future. The fact that the new extension encompassed the entire beach, as well as alarm over the size of the hotel under construction, further angered protest groups.

Despite a raft of successful legal challenges by eco-oriented organizations — spearheaded by a group of lawyers largely working unpaid — construction of the hotel continued. A series of landmark Supreme Court decisions in 2008, 2010 and 2012 were seemingly ignored even after the legal body “found [Taitung County Government’s EIA] review flawed because five out of the 15 members on the EIA committee organized by the county were government officials.”

On Dec. 23 last year, the atmosphere outside Taitung’s imposing County Hall was tense. Over 100 police officers wielding meter-long batons and riot-control shields stood facing a crowd of anti-hotel development protesters perhaps 250-strong. Behind them another group of equal size had gathered in support of the hotel, shouting that it would bring work to the region. Police refused to allow journalists to access the crowd within the town hall complex and instead demanded to see ID papers.

Within the town hall, and after seven years of bitter legal wrangling, a meeting of the Taitung City Government’s EIA panel finally gave the hotel the green light. The respective anger and jubilation on the streets outside was palpable. Representatives from the Miramar Resort have cheerfully reported since then that the hotel is to stage a “soft opening” this summer. Protesters have pledged to mount a further legal challenge and are vowing to carry out a three-week long walk from Taitung to Taipei to highlight their anger at the decision.

RUSHED PROCESS

Chiu Fong-ching (邱鴻慶), 62, a retired Taitung County Environmental Protection Bureau officer who was working at the time the hotel came into being and who has watched the case closely ever since, says the whole process was rushed and that the local government did not take the process seriously enough. “In my opinion the EIA was legal, but the building itself was not,” he says.

Chiu maintains that the county government has no choice however, despite a recent change of administration, as it is contractually obliged to pursue the hotel to its completion and would face a multi-million-dollar lawsuit if it reneged on the deal. “It’s like once you have started washing your hair, there is no turning back”.

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