Thu, Sep 30, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Cabinet considers selling land in conservation plan

WATER WOES The Cabinet is considering addressing watershed problems both by centralizing control over the Shihmen Dam and by enlisting some new allies

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Cabinet is considering allowing corporations and private foundations to adopt sensitive mountainous areas and purchase farmland for land conservation in geologically sensitive areas.

"We're thinking of adopting the UK model to allow a privately-funded foundation to buy or adopt fruit or vegetable farms located in mountainous areas," Minister Without Portfolio Lin Sheng-feng (林盛豐) told reporters after yesterday's Cabinet meeting. "We'd like to begin with the Shihmen Dam watershed."

The private-sector buyer would be required to abide by the law the Cabinet is drafting and hopes will pass the legislature this year. This law will reduce or outlaw land development in mountainous, coastal and flood-prone areas, and would recommend NT$100 billion in spending over the next 10 years on land restoration projects. The bill would offer incentives to residents of those areas to relocate or to sell their land, whose total value is estimated at between NT$5 billion and NT$6 billion.

The Shihmen Dam watershed covers more than 763km3 and includes seven townships and villages. About 94 percent of the area is either Aboriginal or national forestry reserves.

The watershed's fruit farms total 2,015 hectares, and their number has increased 44.6 percent between 1976 and 1998. About 870 hectares are located on steep hillsides where farming is banned.

Lin spoke after briefing Premier Yu Shyi-kun about the reasons water service in Taoyuan County was suspended and how these problems can be resolved.

Currently, five government agencies manage Shihmen Dam. The Cabinet proposed a committee be formed to take charge of these issues under the proposed environmental resources ministry after the legislature passes draft amendments to the Executive Yuan's organic law. Because recent severe storms filled the reservoir behind Shihmen Dam with silt and debris, water service for Taoyuan County was suspended for weeks.

Both natural and human factors caused the problems, Lin said. Natural factors included heavy rainfall and fragile geological features. Human factors included unwise farming and unstable roads in mountain areas and improper dumping of road-construction debris.

"The trigger factor was the heavy rainfall, which caused the collapse of 368 hectares of land upstream from the Shihmen Dam," Lin said. "This land collapse dumped more than 40,000 tonnes of driftwood and more than 20 million cubic meters of silt into the reservoir, making the water so turbid that the county's four water treatment plants had to shut down for days and 600,000 families were left without water," he said.

The loss of water service cost the county's industries NT$4.81 billion and additional commercial losses were estimated at NT$110 million.

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