Court gives nod to big Navy port on Jeju Island
Lawsuit by some residents said environment may be damaged
JEJU - After 15 months of controversy, the Seoul Administrative Court yesterday rejected Jeju residents’ request to stop the Defense Ministry from building a naval base on the island.
The ruling gave the ministry permission to speed up the building of a port for 20 battleships and two large cruisers by 2014.
Over 400 Jeju residents filed a lawsuit against Defense Minister Kim Tae-young in April 2009 claiming the ministry approved the construction of the base in January 2009 without completing a study of the environmental impact on the island.
The residents also argued that the local government and the ministry hastily promoted the project without gauging public opinion.
Park Jeong-hwa, the judge who presided over the case, said there were no illegalities in the way the ministry handled the project.
Park said Defense Minister Kim didn’t abuse his power even though he approved the plan before an environmental impact assessment was done. The judge said the Navy did consult with residents and then conducted an environmental impact study in March, almost three months after the project was approved.
Jeju residents had mixed reactions to the court ruling.
Yoon Ho-gyeong, the head of a Gangjeong villagers association that is opposed to the base, said he can’t accept the ruling.
“I don’t think flaws in the plan will disappear even after the ministry changed its plan a bit,” Yoon said.
Ko Yu-gi, a senior executive of a civic alliance that opposes the base, said he is mulling over an appeal.
Lee Sang-ho, the head of a civic group that supports the base, said it’s time to end the dispute.
Political observers are eyeing how new Jeju government leaders will react to the ruling. Newly installed Jeju Governor Woo Keun-min said last month that he opposes the ministry’s project unless the three parties - defense minister, navy chief and residents - discuss the issue.
On July 9, newly installed Seogwipo Mayor Ko Chang-hu stopped the navy’s building of a construction office at the site.
Ryu Jeup-hui, a Navy official who’s involved in the Jeju naval base plan, said the Navy intends to start construction in October after it discusses the matter with the Jeju Provincial Government.
By Yang Seong-cheol [email@example.com]