The Cabinet is drafting a special bill to ban land development, road construction or repair, farming or residence in certain areas in the wake of the devastating flooding caused by Tropical Storm Mindulle, which killed 29 people and left 12 others missing.
"We're thinking of adopting a two-pronged approach. In addition to cutting down on or outlawing land development in mountain, coastal and flood-prone areas, we'd offer incentives to residents living in such areas to encourage them to relocate or to sell those lands to the government," Premier Yu Shyi-kun told reporters yesterday afternoon.
While the special bill is designed to apply to those areas damaged by Mindulle, Yu said that the draft bills of a coastline law (海岸法), a geological law (地質法) and a national land development law (國土計劃法), which the Cabinet has already sent to the legislature, are designed to prevent excessive land development in the future.
Yu made the remarks after a three?hour closed-door meeting with environmental protection groups.
The groups submitted four petitions to Yu. One petition called for the termination of the NT$96.2 billion freeway construction project to connect Suao in Ilan County with Hualien County. Another called for the reevaluation of a or a halt to the construction of four artificial lakes, while another asked that a request for an additional NT$49.9 billion for the partially-finished Fourth Nuclear Power Plant be rejected.
According to Council for Eco-nomic Planning and Development Vice Chairman Chang Ching-sen (張景森), farming in mountainous areas should be banned because of the large-scale damage it does to the environment.
"Agricultural overdevelopment in mountainous areas is anachron-istic," he said. "Agricultural activities in such areas should be outlawed, while tourism should be encouraged because it does not cause as much environmental damage as farming does."
Chang also hinted that the government might not repair the Central Cross-Island Highway, which was damaged once again by falling rocks, landslides and mudflows triggered by Mindulle between Kukuan and the Techi Reservoir.
"We will not fix public roads damaged by Mindulle if the roads lead to areas where soil conservation should be maintained," he said. "While a team of professional geologists will assess whether the highway does lead to such places, the answer is already evident after looking at satellite photos."
Minister without Portfolio Lin Sheng-feng (林盛豐) said that Yu has ordered a team of experts to pre-sent a preliminary report about the damage and propose alternative plans in two weeks and a more comprehensive report within three months.
"We don't want to spend a lot of money to build an infrastructure which lasts for only a few years or cannot withstand another natural disaster as powerful as Mindulle," Lin said.
The Cabinet is also planning to establish a new department, an environmental resources ministry, to tackle such issues as river dredging.
With environmentalists' calling for the Suao-Hualien freeway pro-ject to be scrapped, Yu instructed the Cabinet's No. 5 National Freeway Response Taskforce to listen to the voices of environmental groups, county councils and opinion leaders before reaching a final decision.
He did, however, promise not to request the NT$49.9 billion additional budget for the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant -- but only because he said the annual budget earmarked for the project this year is sufficient.
The legislature has agreed to allocate a total of NT$123.8 billion for the project, but the Cabinet has only requested NT$107.9 billion so far.
Shen Chia-ling (沈嘉玲), executive secretary-general of the Hualien Dreamers' Union, said that the Cabinet should scrap the freeway altogether, especially after Mindulle.
"Overdevelopment in mountain and hillside areas, especially on the north and west coasts, has severely weakened our homeland," Shen said. "We're calling on the government to stop the construction of the freeway, which is bound to cause environmental havoc on the last clean soil on the island."
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