[EDITORIALS]A train that’s still running lateThe Busan High Court has rejected an appeal from environmental activist groups who contended that building a railway for the bullet train through Mount Cheongseong would destroy the habitat of endangered amphibians. Because of the environmentalists’ opposition to the construction plan, it had been halted twice and delayed by nine months. But construction is now likely to resume with the court’s decision yesterday.
The controversy was over whether the tunnel construction would affect the habitat of salamanders living in the swampland near Mount Cheongseong. The Environmental Ministry recently issued its own evaluation, which concluded that the construction work will not harm the ecosystem.
But environmentalists argued that the government’s report had insufficient grounds for that conclusion. The court ruled yesterday that the likelihood of the swampland’s underground water source, or the swamp water itself, being connected to a vein near the planned tunnel site is very slim. However, as the environmental groups vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, the seed of conflict is still very much alive.
The government is first to blame for the fact that this construction project, which is in line with national policy, has been at a standstill. The government may have mobilized experts to draw up a report stating that the project is environmentally friendly, but the environmental groups were never satisfied. To satisfy the civic groups, the government promised joint research, then reversed the decision, further confusing the issue. One reason this issue has become so confusing is that one of President Roh Moo-hyun’s campaign pledges in 2002 was to halt the construction altogether.
The Korea Rail Network Authority says it lost 16 billion won ($15 million) during the nine months construction was delayed. It could cost Korean society up to 2 trillion won per year, if full-scale operation of the high-speed rail is postponed due to further delays of the tunnel construction. This failure of leadership on a government project leaves the people to deal with the damage. Protecting the environment and this national project are both important. We have a responsibility to protect the nation’s environment for our descendants. The government must find a way to minimize environmental damage while executing a national policy with consistency.