Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Wind power firm hires thugs to protect site

WHITE SHIRTS:A German firm is hiring muscle as security at a controversial construction site in Miaoli, but there is a problem: The guards are operating well beyond their authority

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff reporter, in YUANLI, Miaoli County

A private security guard stands guard on a ridge overlooking the construction site of the No. 26 wind turbine in Yuanli, Miaoli County, on Friday.

Photo: J. Michael Cole, Taipei Times

It became clear as the taxi entered the narrow road, hemmed in on both sides by lush rice fields, that we were not welcome there.

The moment the cab driver brought his car to a halt and rolled down his window, a group of individuals who were sitting on rocks, smoking cigarettes, stood up and approached the car. Most of them wore white construction helmets, simple white shirts and black pants.

The yellow construction cranes jutting above the tree line indicated that we had reached our destination. We were in Yuanli Township (苑裡), Miaoli County, at the site of a controversial wind turbine project by German wind power company InfraVest GmbH, which for the past eight months has met growing opposition by villagers, most of them farmers, who claim that the devices are intrusive and too close to their homes.

We stepped out of the car and were immediately approached by one sunglasses-toting white shirt, who curtly asked us who we were and what we wanted. A few meters away, a group of men, one of them busily chewing on betel nut, cast hostile glances in our direction.

After we had explained the reason for our visit and that this writer was with the Taipei Times, a woman — InfraVest Taiwan vice president Wang Yun-yi (王雲怡) — joined us and agreed to give us some background information about the project.

As she was doing so, a white shirt pointed a hand-held video camera and started filming us.

Our brief conversation with Wang over, we began taking pictures of the site, wind turbine No. 26, which was behind schedule, the result of recent protests.

A crane was lifting a large cubic device; we later learned it housed the electronics that will operate the 80m-tall wind turbine, one of many that are projected to be built in the area.

We then attempted to walk past the construction area and toward the beach beyond, but the men — by then we understood that they were some type of security, as all were equipped with ear pieces and microphones clipped to their shirts, though none wore any identification or insignia — blocked our way.

The area was off-limits, they told us, adding that this was for our safety.

This was in clear violation of a June 4 request by the Forestry Bureau, which had ordered InfraVest take down fences on the road and told it that it could not block access to the beach by local residents, unless the latter were notified seven days in advance and prior to construction.

The Water Resources Agency made a similar request on May 20, saying that roadblocks could cause problems during flooding.

A young protester, a law student at National Taiwan University in Taipei, eventually joined us.

Accompanied by her, we again tried to edge past the security staff. This time around let us through, though they immediately shadowed us.

They followed us wherever we went, all the way to a sandy ridge that overlooks the construction site, smoking their cigarettes, talking into their microphones and constantly staring at the unwelcome visitors through their mirrored sunglasses.

We were on public land, property of the Forestry Bureau.

After a brief conversation with protesters and a US technician overseeing the installation of the equipment, we climbed into a car and left the site. The white shirts had lined up on either side of the car and were looking in on us, threateningly. It felt like we had stepped into a bad Hong Kong action movie.

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