Wed, Mar 11, 2009 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Trees lose out in battle for Taipei Dome site

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

On a chilly Saturday late last month, Green Party Taiwan (GPT) candidate for the Da-an District (大安) legislative by-election Calvin Wen (溫炳原) was removed from a camphor tree at the site of the old Songshan Tobacco Factory, after spending 27 hours in it in an attempt to prevent it being cut down.

Wen was subsequently arrested, along with several of his supporters, for interfering with police duties.

While some may view the escapade as a one-off, the tree-hugging episode was actually the culmination of a battle between a group of environmentalists and the Taipei City Government that began in 2006.

Aside from the Green Party, a number of other activists from groups including the Anti-Taipei Dome Association (ATDA) have attempted to force the city to change its decision to build the Taipei Dome Complex.

“We are not trying to save the tree per se. What we’re trying to do is save the land from being handed to Farglory Group in a build-operate-transfer [BOT] deal,” GPT Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said.

Citing a survey conducted by his organization with residents, ATDA president Arthur Yo (游藝) said that “more than 80 percent of residents think the site should instead be used as Taipei’s second forest park.”

“The Songshan Tobacco Factory, built in the 1930s ceased operations in 1998,” Pan said.

Since then, thick vegetation has grown at the site, harboring many rare animal species, he said, adding that the city had made several unlawful maneuvers to clear the site for the complex.

“In 2003, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Education proposed to use the site for the Taipei Sports and Culture Park and to build a sports dome as part of the ‘sports’ section of the park,” Yo said. “The two departments filed a Environmental Impact Assessment [EIA] proposal with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, which was approved the same year.”

“However, in 2006 the department of education handed the sports dome part to Farglory as a BOT project,” Yo said.

In addition to the NT$23 billion (US$695.9 million), 40,000-seat indoor-sports dome, Farglory proposed adding a department store with restaurants and movie theaters, a luxury hotel with a business center and an office building, Yo said.

“Given the extent of the changes to the initial plan, Farglory must do a new EIA … and this has yet to be done,” he said.

Moreover, to dodge the problem of having to preserve old trees, the department of education intentionally omitted many of the trees on the preservation list in the 2003 EIA, Yo said.

“According to tree preservation regulations, any tree that is more than 50 years old must be preserved. But many of the trees at the site did not make the list. According to the law, if during removal or replanting a preserved tree dies, a fine has to be paid,” Yo said.

To underscore his point, Yo searched high and low for photographs of the tobacco factory when it was still operational and found a 1948 picture from Academia Sinica’s digital archive that proved that the trees had been there since at least that time.

In 2006, the city government began to remove the trees ahead of construction, Yo said. “Among the 689 trees, 384 were moved to a preservation site and 103 died,” he said.

In addition, the removals went against the regulations contained in the 2003 EIA.

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