The Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) yesterday admitted that the geological composition of the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium site — currently being used for the construction of a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station and a maintenance depot — is complicated and “hard to predict”, which amounts to a U-turn from the department’s earlier remarks that the site is completely safe.
“In all construction projects, we make assumptions based on survey results before work begins and make adjustments accordingly once work is under way,” DORTS North District Project Office director Wu Pei-jeen (吳沛軫) said. “Unfortunately, the construction site for the MRT depot and station in the Sinjhuang District (新莊) of New Taipei City (新北市) is located on a geological fault, and so the composition is more complicated and more difficult to predict.”
Wu made the remarks amid a protest by about 100 demonstrators outside Taipei City Hall, calling on the city government to stop construction work immediately.
The sanatorium was built in the 1930s to house people with Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) and isolate them from the outside world, as the disease was once believed to be highly contagious and incurable.
In 2002, the government decided to tear down the sanatorium complex to make way for an MRT station and maintenance depot. However, it was met with strong opposition from conservationists.
A compromise was struck in 2007 to preserve a small part of the original complex of buildings.
However, controversy has continued to plague the project because construction of the MRT station has led to numerous small landslides, causing cracks to form in buildings. Cracks also appeared not only in the old sanatorium complex, but also in a new sanatorium tower built only a few years ago a few hundred meters south of the old complex, conservationists said.
Conservationists with backgrounds in engineering raised concerns about the complicated geological composition of the site, and warned that such a large construction project could be the cause of landslides as far back as 2006. DORTS promised that any such concerns would be resolved with dedicated engineering techniques.
When asked by reporters if DORTS is confident about finding a long-term solution for the problem, Wu said : “I cannot guarantee that such a solution can be found, but personally I believe it will be.”
Asked if the DORTS would abandon the project if it is impossible to find a long-term solution, Wu said he could not answer hypothetical questions, adding “we will have an evacuation plan for the worst case scenario.”
Civil engineer Wang Wei-min (王偉民), who is a long-term supporter of the Losheng conservation movement, panned Wu’s remarks as “irresponsible.”
“Of course you [Wu] could not care less, because if the project fails and the site collapses, then you lose money or your position,” he said. “But for residents of Sinjhuang and Losheng Sanatorium, they could lose their lives as a result of your mistakes.”
Although the press and the demonstrators had more questions, Wu was escorted back into City Hall by the police.
Unsatisfied with Wu’s replies, demonstrators moved forward, trying to stick signs that read “Losheng SOS” on the entrance to City Hall, clashing with police officers who tried to stop them.
Protestors continued to push forward despite warnings from the police that they were in violation of the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) and could be prosecuted.