Losheng activists protest in city

SPIRITED::Protesters clashed with police in Taipei City Hall’s lobby after they rushed in to speak to Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, who had to be escorted out of the building

By Loa Iok-sin and Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 - Page 3

More than 100 activists for the preservation of the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium protested in Taipei yesterday following an announcement by Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and New Taipei City (新北市) Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) that the MRT’s Sinjhuang line would be in full operation next year, while a controversial maintenance depot remains unfinished.

“Restore the sanatorium! Relocate the depot!” the crowd, wearing yellow headbands that read “Defend Losheng,” chanted as they protested.

The protesters said that despite repeated guarantees from the Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) that it was completely safe to build the maintenance depot on the hill where the sanatorium is located, cracks indicating land subsidence appeared — and grew — as soon as construction started.

They added that while the DORTS had repeatedly said it was technically not possible to start partial operations of the MRT line before completing the depot, as proposed by preservation groups, the MRT line began partial operations last year and, according to the two mayors, will become fully operational even though the depot remains unfinished.

Hau and Chu earlier this month announced the launch of the MRT’s Huilong Station and the extension of the Sinjhuang Line, despite construction of the maintenance depot having been suspended.

“We are here to ask the government why it was not possible [in the past] to start partial operations without the maintenance depot, but it is now feasible when political leaders want to do so,” said Huang Chung-hsuen (黃仲玄), a member of the Youth Alliance for Losheng.

“We are asking for justice from the government for the lost historic memories and the rights of Losheng residents,” he added.

A way in which the government could atone for the mistake, Huang said, is to rebuild the sanatorium, restore the construction site to its original state and relocate the maintenance depot.

“The government is a big fraudulent group. It has lied to us all the way,” said Lee Tien-pei (李添培), a Losheng resident. “We have sacrificed so much in the past eight years and now government leaders have announced something they said was impossible in the past, without explaining to us what happened.”

Chou Fu-tzu (周富子), another Losheng resident, called on Hau to relocate the depot and stop the current construction.

“We’re not making unreasonable demands, because the cracks in the houses we are living in right now are growing day by day,” Chou said.

When the protesters discovered that Hau was taking part in an event in the lobby of Taipei City Hall, which is only about 100m from where they were demonstrating, they began to call on Hau to come out and meet them.

Several protesters ran into the lobby, asking to talk to Hau, but they were quickly taken out by police and security guards, while Hau was escorted out of the building.

Seeing that their fellow protesters were driven out by force, the rest of the crowd rushed toward the building and clashed with police, forcing the city hall to close its main entrance.

The preservationists proposed that the MRT line be extended by a few kilometers so that the maintenance depot could be relocated in Shulin District (樹林) at a former Taiwan Railways Administration maintenance depot.

The Losheng Sanatorium was built in the 1930s to isolate patients with Hansen’s disease — also known as leprosy — in Sinjhuang District (新莊), New Taipei City. Most of the sanatorium complex has been demolished to make way for the depot.

DORTS commissioner Richard Chen (陳椿亮) said the MRT line was under conditional operation, as the maintenance depot was still under construction.

Huilong MRT Station, which had been used for maintenance sites, would be shut down for maintenance use again if the line suffered any breakdown, he said.

When land subsidence occurred during construction of the maintenance depot, the DORTS suspended the work and promised that construction would not resume until a more stable, long-term construction method was found.

Chen said the city government decided to launch the station for the convenience of residents of the Sinjhuang area.

In response to the protesters’ suggestion that the department move the maintenance depot to a new location, Chen said the relocation of the maintenance depot required new route planning and another environmental impact assessment, as well as a land acquirement and financial assessment, which could take another 10 years to complete.

He declined to confirm whether the department would consider relocating the depot.