[EDITORIALS]The power of civic groupsLarge-scale projects like the second-stage work on the Seoul-Busan high-speed rail are adrift. This shows how backward Korean society is in settling social conflict. When environmental conservation conflicts with development, coordinating mechanisms should be activated, but they aren’t. And environmental groups oppose such projects without proposing alternatives. The government, dragged by civic groups, repeatedly decides to stop projects. These confrontations result in a waste of time and money.
The Daegu-Gyeongju-Busan sector of the Seoul-Busan rail project was approved after public hearings and debates over 10 years. More than 75 percent of the compensation for expropriated land has been paid. Belatedly, some environmentalists and Buddhists staged sit-ins demanding cancellation of the route past Mount Cheonseong and Mount Geumjeong. President Roh Moo-hyun wrongly accepted their demands and ordered the construction stopped and the route reconsidered. If construction can be stopped by a word from the president, people will perceive that demonstrations can solve their problems.
Environmentalists and Buddhists insist that they will not participate in a review committee unless existing route is canceled. In the case of Seoul’s outer circular highway, all sections except the one past Mount Bukhan are in progress and on schedule. If that section is rerouted, there will be more environmental damage and huge additional cost. In the case of the high-speed rail, residents of Busan and South Gyeongsang province, who favor a direct route and early completion, confront residents of North Gyeongsang province and Gyeongju, who favor the existing route.
Environmental concern is a trend of the times. But delaying or stopping projects that consumed huge investments brings national loss. Interruption of Seoul’s outer beltway will cost 800 million won ($642,000) a day. If the Seoul-Busan high-speed rail is delayed for a year, the loss will be 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). Civic groups should present alternatives, rather than make extreme demands. Government should actively engage in dialogue, and it should make bold decisions.