A controversial underground railway project in Tainan was approved yesterday, despite protests from residents, land rights advocates and environmentalists.
The Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency approved the project in a review after hours of debates about the necessity of property expropriation, residents’ rights and groundwater levels at the proposed construction site.
The project is to see 8.23km of railway tracks laid 30m underground in Tainan’s Yongkang District (永康), but would involve land expropriations, which sparked a series of protests.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
Although the project has yet to be approved by a land expropriation committee, the Urban Planning Commission’s approval is interpreted as a definite “green light,” following a series of reviews that began in 2009.
Dozens of Tainan residents crowded the conference room, but when invited to speak, they stood silently and held up placards expressing their helplessness as the session ended.
National Chengchi University professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) said residents heard rumors that the project would be approved, so they decided not to protest and to make the review the “quietest and smoothest review” in the ministry’s history.
“There are no major flaws in terms of the project’s justifiability,” Deputy Minister of the Interior Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) said at a news conference after the review.
“There will be no forced relocations. Local residents’ rights to housing will be protected 100 percent. Housing will be provided for people whose property is expropriated and they will be able to purchase apartments from the Tainan City Government at 50 percent of market value,” Hua said, adding that 17 percent of residents living close to the project would have to relocate because most of their properties would be expropriated.
Hsu, who read 10 books about land rights and legal expropriation procedures in front of the Executive Yuan for 24 hours from Monday to yesterday in a protest against the project, said he was disappointed, even though the approval came as no surprise.
The lack of communication between the city government and residents was contrary to Hua’s statement that the railway project was justifiable and in the public’s interest, Hsu said.
“We did not have any meaningful conversation with the city government or the commission. Although we were allowed to speak at the reviews, the city did not respond to our questions or suggestions,” he said.
Hua said the ministry rejected Hsu’s request to call hearings to guarantee procedural justice on proposed land appropriations, because the hearing did not have a definite legal significance and officials were not legally obliged to answer advocates’ inquiries.
“Hua’s statement was completely in line with what the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration would have said. There is indeed legal basis to hold hearings, but the ministry is simply unwilling to do so,” Hsu said.
Residents and activists will take legal action to seek “administrative relief” if the ministry issues a formal expropriation order, he said.
The commission said that groundwater levels would not be a problem, despite environmentalists saying the opposite.
Hua said that environmental groups might have used incorrect data, or “cherry-picked data that fit” their agenda.
Taiwan Water Resources Protection Union spokeswoman Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) — who has raised the issue of high groundwater levels and the risk of soil liquefaction — said the committee did not review the groundwater level data she provided, but instead relied solely on data provided by developers.
“The ministry’s unwillingness to identify and solve problems and its tendency to evade responsibility are what disappoint me most,” Chen said, adding that there is little chance to overturn the commission’s decision via legal measures.
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