Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Defending ecological engineering

Criticism has been leveled at government and industry for the quality of construction projects in the wake of Tropical Storm Mindulle. Public Construction Commission Vice Chairman Kuo Ching-chiang, a champion of ecological engineering, told 'Taipei Times staff reporter Chiu Yu-Tzu that the nation has no choice but to continue with these projects to ensure not only people's safety but also the nation's biodiversity

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kuo Ching-chiang says that old construction techniques are to blame for most of the damage that followed Tropical Storm Mindulle.


Taipei Times: You were criticized by political figures because embankments in the disaster zone were destroyed. Some attributed this failure of flood-prevention measures to your promotion of ecological engineering methods. How do you respond to this criticism?

Kuo Ching-chiang (郭清江): There are no grounds for the accusations. Certain political figures know nothing of ecological engineering methods. In addition, they have failed to provide any evidence [for their claims]. My investigation shows that most of the incapacitated embankments were built a long time ago in conventional ways, which rely heavily on the adoption of reinforced concrete.

TT: What is an ideal construction that adopts ecological engineering methods or concepts of ecotechnology?

Kuo: It must be a construction that is built on the basis that both biodiversity and human safety are ensured. After all, sustainable development requires the implementation of appropriate environmentally friendly technologies.

TT: What are some examples of this?

Kuo: Reconstruction work on the Houfantzukeng River in Shuang-hsi Township, Taipei County, is one. In addition, we have others in central Taiwan. Most of them actually survived the recent floods.

(Note: After the 921 Earthquake in 1999, Kuo urged Taiwanese engineers to abandon cement and take into account the ecological and social sustainability of new technologies. On the Houfantzu-keng River, government engineers assisted with the building of wood piles, boulder embankments and the rearrangement of rocks already in the river to control current speed.)

TT: Why have you become a target of criticism for the failure of some embankments?

Kuo: Some of the constructions ruined by the floods were actually supervised by the Water Resources Agency. Due to resistance by some engineers in adopting the new concepts of ecological conservation, these constructions were built using conventional methods and were not concerned with ensuring biodiversity.

TT: Why do some engineers feel uncomfortable about adopting ecological methods?

Kuo: Knowledge is power. Without knowledge, you feel powerless. For most engineers receiving conventional training, it's hard to accept revolutionary concepts that promote ecological pre-servation. So far, there has been no innovative construction of retaining walls alongside rivers. They are reluctant to abandon reinforced concrete. The failure of conventional embankments during the recent floods can be attributed to not only excess rainfall but also old and deficient construction. It has nothing to do with our promotion of ecological methods.

TT: Do you have evidence of the advantages of adopting these methods?

Kuo: In Wufeng township, Tai-chung County, only three out of more than 60 sites on hillsides where these methods were adopted were affected by the floods. In Tungshih township, Taichung County, we found that only two out of about 150 sites using the methods had collapsed. At a site in Hoping township alongside the Wushihkeng river, a tributary of the Ta'an River, a restored and steep 350m-long slope which collapsed during the 921 Earthquake remained covered with vegetation.

TT: Will you continue to promote ecological engineering methods?

Kuo: Certainly. Taiwan has no choice but to continue adopting such means in future construction projects to ensure not only public safety but also biodiversity. In terms of sustainable development, engineering methods that pay no attention to the preservation of biodiversity would eventually result in a negative impact on social development.

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