Conservation groups and local residents yesterday expressed strong reservations about the Ministry of Transportation and Communications' (MOTC) declaration of four major transportation projects for Hualien County on Friday.
The four transportation projects include the construction of two highways, expansion of Hualien Airport and improvement of a railway.
The ministry budgeted around NT$144 billion for the four projects.
Among the projects, the construction of the 86km Suao-Hualien Freeway, which will link Ilan County's Suao and Hualien County's Chian, sparked stiff opposition from conservation groups.
Local residents, on the other hand, welcomed the freeway project but feared it may turn out to be a government ploy, said Hualien County Councilor Chung Yi-wen (鍾逸文) yesterday.
With the by-election of the Hualien County commissioner coming up, Chung said the DPP government is now keen to pay heed to Hualien people's requests.
Chung, after failing to secure the KMT's nomination to run in the by-election, announced he would support independent candidate Wu Kuo-tung (吳國棟), a KMT renegade.
"Hualien has been the country's backwater area. Whatever the government gives us, we receive," Chung said.
He added that Hualien people back the freeway project because transportation is a key element for the prosperity of a region.
"But we are afraid the freeway project is only a by-product of the by-election. We hope the project is not more big pie in the sky," he said.
If the government is sincere about building the freeway, Chung said, it should plan carefully supportive measures for the project and take care of the ecosystem the freeway will pass through.
At a public hearing held in the legislature on Friday to discuss whether the government should press ahead with the construction of the freeway, conservation groups expressed concerns the project will damage Hualien's ecosystem.
Wu Tung-jye (
Besides, the construction of the freeway may significantly reduce water resources and devastate the habitats of many species, including rare species of snakes and butterflies, Wu said.
A local Aboriginal tribe is unhappy about the freeway project because the road will divide their village in two, Wu said.