A group of Greater Tainan residents affected by an underground railroad project yesterday protested outside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei as the party officially announced the nomination of incumbent Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) for re-election next year.
“Stop robbing us, Lai! Stop playing dumb, DPP,” the protesters shouted, urging the party not to nominate Lai unless he would talk with them to settle the dispute.
“We’ve always been diehard loyal supporter of the DPP and Lai, but now we are very disappointed with him and the party,” a protester surnamed Chen (陳) said. “After all, the DPP is no different than the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] and Lai is no different than Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung [劉政鴻] when it comes to the expropriation of private land.”
The dispute concerns a project which was drafted by the Railway Reconstruction Bureau (RRB) under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications in 1995 to place a section of railroad tracks that runs through downtown Tainan underground.
According to the original plan, properties belonging to 407 households on the eastern side of the current surface tracks will be “borrowed” to build temporary tracks during construction of the underground tracks and the land will be returned to the owners to rebuild their houses after the construction is completed.
However, in 2009 the RRB decided to permanently expropriate the land, build the underground tracks underneath the properties belonging to the 407 households and resettle the residents in apartment complexes to be built outside the city’s urban area. The decision triggered protests by the residents.
Wang Chin-chao (王欽昭), a 67-year-old resident whose house in the city is to be torn down, was upset.
“I’ve been living in the city center for more than 40 years in a townhouse and now the city government is asking us to move to an apartment in the middle of nowhere,” Wang said. “The city government is not resettling us for free — we have to buy the apartment with our own money, which means that my son will become indebted.”
Wang said the compensation from the city government would not be enough to purchase a new apartment and thus his family would have to get a housing loan.
Chen Chih-hsiao (陳致曉), a spokesman for the residents’ self-help organization, said that despite a promise the DPP made in August that the party or Lai would talk with the affected residents, no one has contacted them so far.
Responding to the protest, DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said the party would refer the petition to Lai.
Meanwhile, Lai was nominated as the DPP’s candidate in the Tainan mayoral election in the Central Executive Committee meeting yesterday.
Commenting on the case, Lai said yesterday that the project has been assessed by a Control Yuan report as legal and his administration has been promoting better communication with affected residents.
The project does not move the underground railway eastward, Lai said.
“Profiteering for business conglomerates was not an issue, as the expropriated lands would be used as roads, rather than private properties. Neither were the concerns about the environmental impact assessment and administrative process, because we have completed the evaluation and held public hearings as required,” Lai said.
The Control Yuan report recognized the city Government’s effort in providing the affected households extra benefits — a housing program — on top of the legally required compensation, Lai said.
The city government has visited about half of the 407 affected households to provide detailed explanations about the project and is planning to visit all the households within two months, Lai said, adding that more residents have recognized the government’s effort and are willing to cooperate.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang