While the Miaoli County Government said it had demolished historic kilns on its territory earlier this month following advice made at a cultural heritage assessment commission meeting, it recently admitted that the meeting never took place.
The three kilns, located in Miaoli’s Houlong Township (後龍), were surrounded by rice fields and farms.
During the Japanese colonial era, the area was home to a flourishing pottery industry.
As the nation’s economy developed, the old-fashioned labor-intensive kilns that once dotted the area became outdated. They were closed down, demolished or turned into factories producing pottery with modern technology and equipment.
In 2003, however, the county government said it would build a station for the nearby high-speed rail and drew up an urban development project to turn the surrounding area into a transportation hub and high-tech industrial zone.
Facing protests from local historians and kiln preservationists after the last three kilns in the area were destroyed earlier this month to make way for the project, the county government said in a press conference on Jan. 9 that it had done so based on the cultural heritage assessment, which allegedly ruled that the kilns bore no historic or cultural value.
Although Miaoli International Culture and Tourism Bureau Director Lin Chen-fong (林振豐) openly said on several occasions that the demolition was done based on the cultural heritage commission’s assessment, he admitted yesterday that such a meeting never happened.
“We called for a cultural heritage assessment commission meeting [on Dec. 16], but the meeting didn’t happen because an insufficient number of members showed up,” Lin told the Taipei Times during a telephone interview yesterday.
He said that according to the law half of the commission members must be present for a cultural heritage assessment to be held.
Activists who for years have fought for the kilns’ preservation were upset and vowed to take legal action against county officials.
“We will file a complaint against the county government with the Control Yuan,” preservationist Tai Wen-hsiang (戴文祥) said. “We will also file lawsuits against Lin and County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung [劉政鴻].”
“Officials should take their legal, political and historical responsibilities seriously,” he said.
Lin said the county government did not do anything wrong.
“According to the Cultural Heritage Protection Act [文化資產保護法], the local government head has the ultimate authority to make decisions about the handling of cultural heritage sites,” Lin said. “So even if the cultural heritage commission were to rule that the kilns should be preserved, the decision would not be legally binding.”
“The meeting did not happen, but those who showed up that day did inspect the site and said that the kilns were not of enough cultural value to warrant preservation,” Lin said. “So we didn’t lie.”