Factions clash at Kuokuang hearing

COMBUSTIBLE::Environmentalists argue that a proposed petrochemical facility would irreversibly damage the area’s ecosystem, while proponents say it would create many jobs

Staff writer, with agencies

Wed, Dec 15, 2010 - Page 1

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a controversial plan to build a petrochemical complex in Changhua County clashed yesterday as the government held a public hearing on the project.

The two opposing forces used poles and protest banners to poke at each other outside Dacheng Township (大城) Hall in Changhua County in the hours before the hearing.

The clashes were sparked when a supporter of the project took exception to a fake coffin being held by opponents of the complex and tried to damage it.

After they were separated by police, the two camps continued to trumpet their respective views via campaign trucks that were driven to the scene.

By the time the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ meeting on the NT$600 billion (US$20 billion) project began, the brawl had petered out, with no injuries reported.

Local police said between 400 and 500 protesters were present, while 500 officers were dispatched to the scene.

Inside the hall, sporadic quarrels also broke out between supporters and opponents of the project. The hearing ended without reaching any conclusion.

The complex is being proposed by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co (KPTC, 國光石化科技), a joint venture between state-owned oil refiner CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC, 台灣中油) and several private companies.

The project has been under consideration since the 1990s. Since it was first proposed, the site of the complex has been changed several times because of strong objections from local residents.

KPTC initially planned to invest up to NT$400 billion to construct a 4,000 hectare petrochemical complex on Changhua County’s coastal wetlands near the estuary of the Jhuoshui River (濁水溪). However, rising material costs increased the overall budget of the project.

The first phase is scheduled to be completed in 2016 and could help boost economic growth significantly, the project’s backers say.

The ministry says the project would generate revenue of about NT$460 billion and create 18,000 jobs directly and 357,000 jobs indirectly.

However, environmentalists have argued that the facility would cause irreversible damage to the area’s ecosystem, which includes migratory birds, fiddler crabs, mudskippers, mud shrimps and the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.

Early last month, nearly 10,000 people from more than 200 groups nationwide took to the streets in Taipei, demanding that the government halt expansion of the petrochemical industry.