Could the long-running saga of the battle against the Miramar Resort Hotel finally be over? Perhaps. If there is one thing opponents of the beachfront development have learned over the course of the more than decade-long fight to stop the hotel, it is not to rush to celebrate apparent victories.
The Supreme Administrative Court on Thursday rejected the Taitung County Government’s appeal to resume work on the controversial five-star resort at Shanyuan Bay (杉原灣). The court found that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report the county used to allow developers to resume work on the hotel was null and void.
Thursday’s ruling cannot be appealed, but the battles that Aborigines, other residents and environmental groups have waged against county officials hell-bent on promoting tourism as the only development option for the county are far from over.
In 2004, the county signed a 50-year build-operate-transfer contract with Miramar Hotel Co to develop 6 hectares of land on the bay. Despite protests, work began in 2005 and the first of several lawsuits against the project was filed.
Opponents accused the county government of chicanery, saying it had divided the site into several small plots so that the project would not have to undergo an EIA, as well as giving the developer preferential benefits. Although the hotel itself was to take up 9,997m2 — about one-sixth of the beach’s total area — that was 3m2 short of the 1 hectare minimum needed for a mandatory EIA.
Following public protests and an order from the Environmental Protection Administration, the county government conducted and approved an EIA report in 2008. However, it was rejected by the Kaohsiung High Administrative Court in 2009, amid complaints that the committee which issued it included too many county government officials.
In 2010, the Kaohsiung court ruled that all construction work on the site had to be halted, but the county government continued to issue construction and usage licenses.
In January 2012, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the Kaohsiung court’s ruling and in September that year ordered that all work be halted immediately.
The company submitted a second EIA report for review by the county government, which passed it conditionally in December 2012, and the county allowed work to resume in 2013, prompting a new lawsuit in 2014.
On Oct. 28 of that year, the Kaohsiung court ruled in favor of 14 plaintiffs who sought to have the second report rejected.
Despite all the rulings against the hotel and repeated appeals to the Control Yuan for investigations, the county continued to grant construction permits.
The Miramar Resort Hotel today stands virtually complete, casting a long shadow over the beach and bay in front of it. If it is truly never to be finished, what is going to happen to it?
Will the building become a slowly decaying blight on the landscape — as was the fate of several developments fronting Baishawan (白沙灣) and other areas along the northern coast that were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s?
What about the other projects planned for Shanyuan Bay? The Miramar resort is but one of six hotels planned for the area. The 11.3-hectare Dulan Bay Golden Sea Resort on March 11 failed its environmental assessment, but it too is likely to be tied up for years in challenges because of its proximity to the Fushan (富山) archeological sites and potential risks to coral reefs.
What about the continuing willingness of local governments to sign away access rights to public beaches as an enticement to private companies to construct hotels, to run roughshod over Aborigines’ rights of access to traditional lands in the name of development and to use the lure of potential jobs to override threats to the environment?
The Miramar project has been a poster child for much of what is wrong with tourism development policies of both the central and local governments. It is time to rethink the goals and the policies.
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