Sun, Nov 04, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Officials, activists row on Hualien highway project

Staff writer, with CNA

Environmental activists defended a government regulation that has temporarily suspended work on a project to improve the Suhua Highway to reduce its ecological impact, after local officials blasted the mechanism for “placing the lives of birds above human beings.’”

The project was initiated late last year to reinforce and improve the integrity of the only highway that runs from Suao to Hualien along the nation’s eastern coast, seeking to assuage safety concerns voiced by Hualien residents.

However, the project must be suspended whenever the number of nine indicator bird species in certain locations drops to less than 97 within an observation period of two hours.

The mandatory suspension mechanism has drawn strong opposition from Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁) and several county councilors.

Fu blasted the central government for yielding to civil organizations’ requests and “making decisions that are out of sync with the real world.”

Saying that the project was to provide Hualien residents with a safe route home, Fu denounced the regulation for attaching more importance to the lives of birds than to the lives of people.

In response, Huang Bo-chun (黃柏鈞), secretary-general of the Chinese Wild Bird Federation, said Fu was “very wrong” about the construction suspension mechanism, which was formed out of the need for ecological conservation.

“The existence of birds represents the health of the environment. Now is the best time to mend the partnership between human beings and the environment,” he said in a statement released by the Taipei-based organization on Friday.

When a construction project has progressed to a degree that possible environmental damage may occur, the work should be stopped for an impact evaluation, Huang said. Although a suspension will delay the project, it can minimize damage to the environment, he added.

The Suhua project is not the first to be bound by such a mechanism, Huang said, citing as an example the suspension of high-speed railway construction during the jacana birds’ six-month breeding season.

Echoing Huang’s remarks, Tsai Chung-yueh (蔡中岳) of Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan said that when birds begin to disappear, it means the environment is damaged.

“We believe that caring for birds’ lives is caring for human lives. If construction work causes birds to disappear from an area, you can hardly expect people to live there,” Tsai said.

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