Despite growing concerns over landslides that could destroy Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium, allegedly caused by the construction of an MRT maintenance depot in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sinjhuang District (新莊), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) yesterday flatly rejected a request that the depot be relocated.
In a joint interview with the Taipei Times and its sister paper, the Chinese-language Liberty Times, Jiang said he has made it clear to Losheng Sanatorium preservationists that asking for the depot to be built on an alternative site is “basically out of the question,” considering the extent to which work has already been done.
However, “we are very serious” about safety concerns the construction could pose to the sanatorium and will proceed with the project “with extreme caution,” he said.
Jiang said he has been reassured by five civil engineering academics, Public Construction Commission Minister Chen Chen-chuan (陳振川) and experts at the Taiwan Geotechnical Society that the construction, using a method known as “cut-and-cover,” would not lead to landslides on the hill on which the sanatorium is located.
Since construction was resumed at the site of the partially demolished sanatorium, cracks and sinkholes have appeared and grown larger, a problem that preservationists say amounts to an “impeding landslide crisis.”
The latest call for the problem to be addressed was made by movie director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), who recently donated NT$1 million (US$33,520) in prize money from the National Cultural Award to help finance the reconstruction of sanatorium, built in the 1920s to house people with Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy).
Hou criticized the government for being “indifferent” to the problem at the award ceremony in the presence of the premier. Jiang declined to respond when he was asked for a comment by reporters afterwards.
Prior to that, students in the Youth Alliance for Losheng, who have long stood alongside the sanatorium’s residents, tried in vain to sit down with Jiang to give him the latest information on the landslide problem when he became premier in February.
Jiang said yesterday that he has a thorough understanding of the problem because he had met with the students when he was minister of the interior and vice premier.
“The last time I checked with the competent authorities, I was told that [the concern over landslides] is not an insurmountable problem,” he said.
Before entering politics, Jiang, then a political science professor at National Taiwan University, paid a visit to the sanatorium at the climax of the campaign to preserve the facility in a gesture of support for the campaign.
The construction of the Sinjhuang depot started in June 2002; a year later the first demolition of buildings at the sanatorium and some relocations took place.
After years of protests by conservationists, the Executive Yuan in 2007 came up with a plan, known as “the 530 plan,” to preserve 39 buildings and rebuild 10 elsewhere after construction of the depot had been completed. Construction of the depot was resumed in 2008, but the problems with cracks in the walls and sinkholes ensued.
A verdict handed down by Supreme Administrative Court on April 9 ordered a retrial at the Taipei High Administrative Court after a ruling in favor of Taipei Rapid Transit Corp in a lawsuit brought by preservationists demanding a halt to the construction.
Jiang said he supports conserving the remaining buildings at the sanatorium as laid out in the 530 plan as the preservation of an historical site ensures that future generations understand its particular history.
“Even the construction of the depot, right next to the sanatorium, will leave traces of history, that an issue arose here that is the tension between economic development and historical preservation, which would be worthy of our descendants’ remembrance,” he said.
On other topics, Jiang said the downward revision of GDP growth in the first quarter to 1.54 percent, from an earlier forecast of 3.26 percent, “came as a bit of surprise,” but he remains optimistic that GDP growth for the whole year could exceed 3 percent.
Jiang also said he is determined to overhaul the cash-strapped pension system to ensure the funds’ future solvency “for next generation.”
The Cabinet-proposed reform of the labor pension system, that sees most workers who retire after 30 years of service receive a monthly pension of less than NT$20,000, has been met with indignation, with labor groups taking to the streets yesterday to voice their opposition.
In response, Jiang termed the proposal a “moderate reform.”
“If you’re asking me if the reform will cause unbearable grief, then I don’t think so,” he said.