중앙데일리

Supreme Court clears the way for completing high-speed rail

June 02,2006
The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an appeal by environmentalists and Buddhists to stop the construction of a tunnel for a high-speed rail link at Mount Cheonseong, near Busan, allowing the government to resume work at the site. The court said environmental surveys conducted at the request of the activists showed that the project would do little or no damage to the environment near the mountain.
The ruling puts the Gyeongbu express railway project back on track, although its completion will be delayed until 2010. The legal dispute cast a shadow over the project for more than two and a half years.
The court rejected the appeal by Friends of Salamander, an environmental group, and two Buddhist temples on the mountain, Naewon Temple and Mitaam. The plaintiffs asked for an injunction to stop the Korea Rail Network Authority from building the tunnel 13.3 kilometers (8.3 miles) through Mount Cheonseong. The court upheld several lower court decisions to the same effect.
The rail authority started working on the tunnel in December 2003, and about 26 percent of the construction has been completed.
“If the construction were stopped, nearly 2 trillion won ($2.1 billion) of losses would occur annually,” the court said. “And the risk of environmental damage is not serious.”
The route for Korea’s first bullet train line was decided in June 1990. In 2003, Buddhists and activists united to launch efforts to prevent the train from running through the mountain. The name of the environmental group in the coalition was a part of its campaign alleging that the habitat of a rare salamander that inhabits the mountain would be endangered. Tensions peaked during hunger strikes by a Buddhist nun, Ji-yul, now 48, in 2003 and 2005.
Construction was halted in early February 2005; in December, the government and the protesters agreed to a joint survey of the route and the possible environmental damage the work might cause. Construction resumed during the survey.
The results were given to the Supreme Court in March; yesterday the court agreed that the government had respected environmental laws that applied to the construction work.
It rejected the claim of a right to seek an injunction to stop the work based on the protesters’ purported “constitutional environmental rights.” And on the substance, it said, “The design and the building method reflect the geographical characteristics of the mountain, thus the tunnel construction hardly damages the environmental interests of the petitioners.”
Kim and Partners, a law firm representing the protesters, said that it might seek relief from the court in the future if proof emerged of environmental damage.


by Ser Myo-ja


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