Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Wrangling continues over Hualien freeway

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the latest twist to the controversial Suao-Hualien freeway project, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said on Friday that further review of the freeway's environmental impact is needed. But the national expressway authority contended yesterday that the project will proceed.

"We will invite the EPA committee members to come to the construction site while pushing ahead with the Hualien freeway project," said Taiwan Area National Expressway Engineering Bureau Director General Bane Chiou (邱琳濱). "I think it is a wish of both central and local governments to have the freeway construction started as soon as possible."

A majority of the EPA committee members argued that the environment in Hualien had changed due to the 921Earthquake, floods and typhoons in the past four years, and they advocated stricter criteria for evaluating the feasibility of the project. But Bureau officials countered that they have already conducted an updated geological survey and hydrological assessment.

"The environmental impact assessment report of the Hualien freeway is the most comprehensive in recent years and offers the latest information; the EPA might want to look further into that," Chiou said, noting that there were only four committee members present at the EPA meeting on Friday. The bureau will convene a meeting on Monday to discuss whether and when to file a report again.

"It is a question of administrative procedure, not a question of a change in policy," said the bureau's deputy chief engineer, Tseng Dar-jen (曾大仁).

Although the NT$96.2 billion project passed its first environmental impact assessment four years ago, opposition from grassroots environmental groups and the Council for Economic Planning and Development under the Executive Yuan has put the infrastructure project on hold. The bureau submitted two more reports on how to prevent environmental harm in December last year and April. Yet neither of the reports met the EPA's standards.

In December of last year, Premier Yu Shyi-kun announced that the project would be suspended for a three-month review after Hualien County Commissioner Hsieh Shen-shan (謝深山) forwarded local environmentalists' strong opposition to it.

Yet an official poll later showed that about 78 percent of Hualien residents favored the freeway project, with the hope that it will boost the sluggish local economy. Caught in a tug-of-war between environmental and economic interests, the Hualien freeway has continued to draw controversy.

In August, the Council of Economic Planning and Development reportedly was prepared to replace the freeway project with a less extensive and more environmentally-friendly project, the Hualien-Taitung Express Train.

Early this month, however, Yu indicated the government's firm will to build the freeway, while stumping for Democratic Progressive Party legislative hopeful Lu Po-chi (盧博基).

"We have collected lands and contracted with construction companies for the Hualien freeway. This is evidence of our sincere intent to build the freeway," Yu was quoted as saying in his address to Hualien voters.

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