[EDITORIALS]‘Last chance’ for SaemangeumThe “Saemangeum debate” has gone back to the starting point. The Seoul Administrative Court’s ruling that a solution must be found by a committee of civic groups and government officials, after determining the purpose of the land reclamation project, undertaking an environmental assessment and coming up with the best possible solution, returned the tedious debate on the environment versus economic development to square one.
Experts from all fields have been debating about Saemangeum for seven years, but neither sides could find a point of agreement.
Considering the colossal amount of money and time that went into the project, we cannot scrap it altogether, nor can we go ahead with it, considering the environment. Even if the judiciary favors one side, the debate cannot end unless the other side agrees to some extent. After much agony, the court has come up with a solution of “finding a point of compromise” by both sides.
Now the ball has been tossed to the government and the environmental groups. Both sides must find a point of compromise this time around. Of course this will not be easy. When the land reclamation is completed, the environmental groups argue that water pollution as severe as in the Sihwa Lake will occur and tidelands will die. The government argues that the project is vital for food security and regional development. Both arguments have some truth to them. Among the 33 kilometers of tide embankment, construction has been nearly completed on the seawall except for 2.7 kilometers, hence it is difficult to halt the project now.
But we must not have exhaustive debates. So far, we have wasted too much national power and resources on this project. The repeated halting of the project through the years and demonstrations have caused the cost of the seawall to increase from 820 billion won ($788 million) to 2 trillion won. This issue led to a serious division of national opinion after religious sectors and politicians entered the debate. The project has been drifting for 14 years, and there is still no guarantee of a solution.
Both sides must accept the court’s ruling on the arbitration and must find a point of compromise. We must think about what is best for the national interest, national competitiveness and our descendants. We must open our hearts and make some concessions, one step at a time. This project must not remain adrift. This is our last chance.