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Tue, Jan 11, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Cadaver adds unexpected twist to river inspection

ENVIRONMENT Mayor Ma Ying-jeou conducted an inspection of the Taipei's rivers yesterday to check on the progress made by his municipal departments as part of an EPA project to beautify the waterways

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou gives a thumbs-up during a boat ride on the Tamshui River to inspect the progress made by the municipal government in cleaning up the city's polluted waterways. Holding a sample of river water in a plastic cup, the mayor said: "It smells much better than it used to!"

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Although it has become all too common to see trash floating in Taiwan's rivers, dead bodies are not such a common occurrence. However, news of a corpse floating nearby was exactly what greeted city officials during an inspection of Taipei's waterways.

While Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) headed a team taken by boat yesterday to check pollution levels in the Keelung River (基隆河), workers engaged in a clean-up operation found a body floating nearby.

Reacting to the incident, Ma demanded that police launch an investigation, while at the same time drawing attention away from the discovery to promote the original purpose of the trip -- to show achievements made by the city government in the field of water treatment.

Ma dipped a plastic cup into the water, held it up to his nose, and told reporters: "It smells much better than it used to!"

Six months ago, during an investigation of the same stretch of water, Ma made his dissatisfaction with the pollution known.

The poor quality of the Tamshui River (淡水河) and its tributary, the Keelung River, has hampered the launch of a project meant to turn the downstream She-tzu Islet (社子島), a sandbar covering 300 hectares of land at the junction of the two rivers, into a sightseeing destination.

As part of the Environmental Protection Administration's (EPA) Tamshui River pollution treatment project, the Taipei City government began to remove debris from the river's surface in 1998.

According to statistics, workers had to remove 600 tonnes of waste between the Huachiang Bridge (華江橋) and the Kuantu Bridge (關渡橋) every year.

To more efficiently block water-borne garbage, the city adopted a creative method, using securing nets hung in the current, fastened by way of thick ropes. The project was also expanded to include the Keelung River last November.

During the field investigation yesterday, officials from the Taipei City government and the EPA admitted that the nets had been a big help.

"In addition to removing nine scooters, two cars, and more than 100 tonnes of other waste from the river, our workers also saved one person from drowning after trying to commit suicide," said Stephen Shen (沈世宏), director of the city's Bureau of Environmental Protection.

Shen said the main source of floating garbage was five decommissioned municipal landfills along the river, in addition to the public's use of the waterways as a dumping site for discarded furniture.

"The situation gets even worse during the rainy season," according to Shen, "but at least two tonnes of garbage can be removed every day," he said.

Representatives from Tung-I Waste Handling Corp (同怡資源處理公司), which is contracted to remove the trash, said using nets is the most efficient way to collect it.

Yeh Mu-tung (葉木通), a company spokesperson, said flourishing wildlife was evidence of the success so far. "The river is treatable," Yeh said, "we see mullets and milk fish again."

As for the sight of bodies floating in the rivers, Yeh said it was not that uncommon, adding that about ten cadavers are discovered every year.

Mayor Ma, meanwhile, said more energy needs to be spent on efficient pollution prevention strategies, such as building more sewerage pipes to take waste directly from residential areas to waste treatment plants.

"We cannot develop water tourism until the river smells normal," the mayor said.

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