Taipei City’s Maokong Gondola system, a major municipal project under former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, has become a thorny problem for the Taipei City Government as it scrambles to find an alternative site for the system after its route was damaged by erosion.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) refused to finalize a decision on relocating the gondola and slammed critics for staging the “political murder” of the system. However, Taipei City councilors across party lines and experts urged Ma and Hau to take political and administrative responsibility for the problematic system.
“The area where the system was built was known for its rainy weather and sensitive soil, and yet the city government went ahead and proceeded with the construction. The decisionmakers should take full responsibility for what happened,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) said.
DPP Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chia-ching (徐佳青) condemned the then-Ma administration for dodging an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project by defining the system as a “recreational facility” instead of a “public transportation tool” when applying for the construction permit in 2005.
The city government tampered with the purpose of the gondola project to dodge an EIA and related construction regulations, and ignored calls by local residents and environmental groups for water and land conservation plans before construction.
“There have been warnings about the safety of the gondola, but the city government would not listen. The disasters could have been prevented if it had taken the warnings seriously,” she said.
The Maokong Gondola, located in Muzha (木柵), was Taipei City’s first cable car system and was built under Ma’s administration to develop tourism.
Ma proposed the project in 2004, and formed a special task force to carry out the plan. Construction began in 2005 and was complete in just over one year in 2006 with no EIAs or construction licenses.
The line, which cost the city more than NT$1.3 billion (US$39.3 million) to build, became a popular attraction since its opening in July last year. However, mudslides brought by a typhoon in September caused erosion under the system’s Tower No. 16 and forced the city government to suspend service since October.
Geological and engineering experts blamed the erosion of Tower No. 16 and allegedly nine other support pillars on the city government’s failure to complete an EIA and land conservation work before the construction.
“If the city government had not dodged the EIA and rushed the construction, none of these problems would have happened. President Ma Ying-jeou should take the responsibility for the decisions he made,” said Yang Ping-shih (楊平世), a bioresources and agricultural professor at National Taiwan University.
Yang, who was invited by the city government to give advice during the planning stage, said he had called on the city government to conduct EIAs and warned about the system’s negative impact on local residential area, but the city government insisted on building the gondola at the current site.
Chen Wen-shan (陳文山), a geology professor at National Taiwan University, warned that at least six more of the gondola’s 25 support pillars were built on areas prone to landslides, and would be further eroded during rainy seasons or earthquakes.