Residents of Chiayi County’s Fanlu Township (番路) said they had mixed feelings of nostalgia and relief when it came time to say goodbye to a familiar neighbor: a large ammunition depot.
The Fanlu Ammunition Depot, which occupies more than 100 hectares at the junction of four villages in the township, is strategically located on the slopes of a high hill along the Alishan Highway (阿里山) overlooking Pachang Creek (八掌溪) valley, locals said.
During the Japanese colonial era, the Japanese imperial army was the first to use the depot for military purposes, they added.
“When the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] lost the Chinese Civil War against the Chinese Communist Party, its troops fled to Taiwan. The KMT continued to use the depot and made plans to expand it,” a village elder said.
For more than six decades, the locals have seen it as an unpredictable “time bomb,” and considered it very dangerous because of the large quantities of bombs, ammunition and ordinances that it housed.
They had good reason to be concerned, and two major explosions rocked the depot in 1984 and in 1994.
Both explosions were caused by human error and negligence, and led to several casualties.
Many windows and doors of nearby houses were shattered by the explosions, causing residents to fear for their safety.
Since the depot is a military-controlled site with restricted access, there are prohibitions on land development in the area. These restrictions have caused real-estate prices in the surrounding villages to drop.
Seeing the depot as an obstacle to the township’s economic development, residents began to call for it to be relocated.
Backed by the local government and politicians in a major push in 2007, their request was taken up by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who instructed the Ministry of National Defense to study the feasibility of relocating the depot.
Assessments by military agencies indicated that the depot has on-site network extensions that converged with woods in the surrounding area and the fruit orchards of the villagers.
The military only controls the main road, while the side roads and surrounding lands belong to farmers, making it difficult to ensure the safety of the depot, which was then deemed a security risk.
Therefore, the ministry in 2009 decided to transfer the munitions to Chiayi’s Lantan Depot and other ammunition depots in central and southern parts of the country.
Due to the sensitivity involved in transporting explosives and ordinances, the military performed the task at nighttime, which prolonged the relocation process.
By the end of last year, all of the munitions at the Fanlu depot were transported out of the township, the officials said, adding that personnel with the Logistic Support unit stationed at the depot are slated to move out and be replaced by army troops starting next month.