Sat, Jun 02, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Government swaps public land to save crabs’ habitat

ENTICING OFFER:King’s Town Construction, which plans to build a hotel in the area, has agreed to take a smaller plot of land, but can now avoid complicated procedures

By Tsai Tsung-hsien  /  Staff reporter

Houwan Bay in Pingtung County, a natural habitat for land crabs, is pictured in an undated photo.

Photo: Tsai Tsung-hsien, Taipei Times

In a landmark deal, the government last week secured land crab habitats in Pingtung County’s Kenting National Park (墾丁國家公園) that were threatened by a hotel construction project by agreeing to exchange public land for that owned by the hotel developer.

The case, which saw state-owned land exchanged for the purpose of ecological protection, set a national precedent.

King’s Town Construction Co has been planning to build a two-story hotel with more than 170 rooms on the county’s seashore at Houwan Bay (後灣). The project in 2009 passed an environmental impact assessment, even though academics said that the location was a hotspot for land crabs.

In 2011, conservationists Yang Mei-yun (楊美雲) and Hung Hui-hsiang (洪輝祥) advised the project developer to exchange its land for public land that is less essential to the ecosystem, but such a deal was considered impossible at the time.

However, the proposal has now been realized, following lobbying efforts by Kenting National Park Administration Office Director Liu Pei-tung (劉培東) and county Environmental Protection Bureau Director Lu Tai-ying (魯台營).

The two officials have convinced the Ministry of Finance’s National Property Administration to offer King’s Town the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium’s temporary parking lot in exchange for the original site in a deal that was approved by the Executive Yuan on Tuesday.

While the new site is only 1.9 hectares, compared with the originally planned 2.5 hectares, the developer can now avoid several administrative procedures, as its construction no longer affects land crab habitats. The location, which borders a county road, is also more convenient for transportation.

“The deal proves that the impossible can be made possible,” Liu said on Thursday. “The government has rarely approved land swaps for conservation reasons, but this time marks a breakthrough and has set an example for future cases of construction projects clashing with ecological protection.”

Protecting Houwan Bay from development is a reason for celebration, Yang said, adding that it is the only untouched land in the national park that is not divided by roads and is home to more than 30 species of land crabs.

However, the officials would keep watching the construction process as the new site is still near the crabs’ habitat, he said.

The construction project needs to undergo a new environmental impact assessment and the park administration office would keep the developer to strict standards for environmental protection, the office said.

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