Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) yesterday told residents of Hualien and Taitung counties that the government would definitely deliver on its promise to construct an alternative route to the dangerous Suhua Highway as soon as such a project passes an environmental impact review, but this failed to deter an angry county commissioner from promising to go ahead with a protest in Taipei today.
Accompanied by Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chih-kuo (毛治國) and Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏), Wu traveled to Hualien and Taitung to explain the government’s plan to build an alternative route providing a safe link to residents in the eastern part of the country. Their trip came after mudslides on the highway caused by torrential rain on Oct. 22 killed at least three people and left 23 missing.
Wu defended the government’s decision to build the alternative route even as participants at a meeting, organized by the Hualien County Government, accused President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of backtracking on his promise, made during last year’s elections for county commissioner, to begin construction on the project this year.
Wu told residents he was sorry about the government’s failure to properly maintain the highway, which is the most important route connecting Hualien and Taitung with other parts of the country.
However, Wu said he could not force members of the EPA’s Environmental Impact Assessment Committee to pass the review of the alternative route.
“Can I take a knife and threaten to kill myself if [the committee] fails to pass the environmental impact review?” he asked.
Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁), who last week said he would come to Taipei to protest the lack of action regarding the alternative route, remained critical of the premier’s promises.
Fu told a press conference after Wu had left that it was the government’s responsibility to build a safe road for residents of eastern Taiwan and that it should not pass the buck to members of the EPA committee, adding that the recent tragedy on the highway should serve as a wake-up call for the government.
Fu said he still planned to bring thousands of Hualien residents to the Executive Yuan today to demand a safe road for Hualien residents to travel home.
Fu said he would join protesters on tour buses traveling along the Southern Cross-Island Highway to Taipei.