[EDITORIALS]2d thoughts on SaemangeumThe Seoul Administrative Court has approved a preliminary injunction to temporarily stop the Saemangeum reclamation project, which began in 1991. The court said that serious damage to the tidal land is no longer tolerable because the project’s purpose has become unclear. The court’s ruling, coming amid fierce debate over the reclamation project, provides an opportunity to rethink the issue back to square one.
From the beginning, the project raised problems. The original intention was to expand agricultural lands, but the government later decided to pay farmers to stop farming, due to a surplus of rice. President Roh Moo-hyun has said that the reclaimed land would not be used for farming, which completely defeats the initial purpose of the reclamation. Nor is it simple to use reclaimed land for industrial sites. Conflicts of interest among local people and the protest campaign of environmental activists sharpened the situation.
The breakwater was within 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) of completion, which would have made the project irreversible. The court’s injunction thus is welcome news, giving the project some breathing space.
It is time for the central government, the North Jeolla provincial government and the Millennium Democratic Party’s special committee on the project to work together to devise a practical alternative to the Saeman-geum project. To prevent any more waste of national resources, discussion should focus on how much land should be reclaimed and for what purpose.
The project was begun to stimulate the relatively underdeveloped North Jeolla region, and 1.5 trillion won ($1.28 billion) has already been spent to build more than 90 percent of the breakwater. This is an opportunity for the environmental groups’ idealism and the North Jeolla government’s realism to be used to find a better future for the project.