The Greater Taichung Government has been accused by environmental groups of pursuing a cable-car project for the sole benefit of certain construction companies, endangering human life and the destroying the environment.
When complete, the project would link the Guguan region (谷關) to Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area (大雪山) by running a cable car over the summit of Pochinchia Mountain (波津加).
At 5,790m, the project would be the longest cable-car route ever, according to former Greater Taichung deputy mayor Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇).
Hsiao added that a one-way trip would take an estimated 18 minutes, 52 seconds.
However, Green Formosa Front standing director Lin Chang-mao (林長茂) said that the area is unstable and highly prone to landslides.
Some of the 11 tower bases holding the cable lines in place have been placed near spots of evident headward erosion, Lin said, referring to a type of erosion that lengthens a stream, valley or gully at its origin and also enlarges its drainage basin due to the stream flow.
Lin questioned how the government planned on performing rescues in the tight, narrow mountain paths in the event of a landslide.
Environmental advocate Lin Tzu-ling (林子凌) said the government’s own assessment report indicated clear understanding of the project’s negative impact on the environment and that therefore the government was being highly irresponsible.
Lin said the assessment report stated: “Geological structure is extremely fragile after the earthquake and typhoons in the area, which is littered with loose earth and rocks. In addition, this is a high-altitude area and surrounded by sites of previous landslides that await restoration efforts. The area’s environment would be affected if the cable car stations were built.”
The earthquake and typhoon mentioned were the Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake and typhoon Mindulle in 2004.
There would also be a greater chance of lightning strikes at high altitude and mountain fogs also pose a natural danger to construction, Lin said.
The Greater Taichung Government suffered a credibility hit in outsourcing construction on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, but at the time, it promised developers that they would be offered chances to build subsidiary facilities, Lin said.
According to the Act for the Promotion of Private Participation in Infrastructure Projects (促進民間參與公共建設法), subsidiary facilities include retail shops, department stores, restaurants and other facilities.
Other environmental protection groups said that the construction and potential crowds it could draw would seriously affect the habitat of wildlife in the area.
The area is home to the endangered Formosan black bear and a wide variety of bird life, the groups said, adding that the project would encroach on natural ecosystems.
In response, head of the city government’s construction division, Liu Lai-wang (劉來旺), said the government has taken all necessary precautions and that the worries raised were unsubstantiated.
“The government has avoided all the geologically sensitive locations and we have entered an agreement with companies to hire locally,” Liu said.
The agreement for companies to build subsidiary facilities was a ploy to increase investment incentives and would not impact on how the recreation area is run, the government’s spokesman added.
Regarding lightning strikes, Li said that according to Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower, 台電) statistics, Guguan receives about 67 strikes a year, while Taipei’s Maokong (貓空), where a cable-car system has been set up, gets about five times more.
“We have the highest safety standards for Guguan cable cars, with comprehensive plans for rescues,” Liu said, adding that the cars would stop moving when hit by gusts of winds faster than 16m per second.
Saying that cable cars have often been employed by European countries to stimulate tourism, Guguan Communal Development Association honorary chairman Liu Chia-chih (劉家熾) added that the altitudes in Guguan would only make cable cars more attractive.
Additional reporting by Chang Ching-ya, Wu Po-hsuan and Chang Jui-chen