[EDITORIALS]Development wins, for nowThe Seoul High Court yesterday ruled that the government could go ahead with the Saemangeum project. The appellate court overturned the initial ruling, which had sided with environmental organizations. Although the case will be brought to the Supreme Court as environmentalists will react strongly against the ruling, the world’s largest land reclamation project has gained strength with the court’s ruling this time.
The judges gave more weight to the necesssity of development in view of public interest than to the environmental value of the estuaries. Their opinion is that worries over deteriorating water quality in the resulting lake as raised in the first court trial do not pose a grave enough risk to warrant cancelling the entire project. They judged that in situations where development and environemental protection conflict, the government decision to promote land development was flawless in view of the nation’s competitiveness and interests. In reality, the Saemangeum project has costed more than 1.8 trillion won ($1.8 billion) since its groundbreaking in 1991 and of the planned 33 km seawall, only 2.7 km is left unfinished. If the project is cancelled at this stage, the aftermath could be even more costly.
If the project is promoted as is planned, the seawall will be completed in April next year. This will create a fresh-water lake 100,000 ha in size, and land 140 times the size of Youido in Seoul will be reclaimed. The remaining task is how to develop the newly claimed land and the lake in an environment-friendly way. Although the quality of the water along the Dongjin River developed earlier is improving, we shouldn’t follow the example of Sihwa Lake, which suffered from contamination. The controversy over the use of land will remain an issue for futher debate. As we have a surplus of rice, the original purpose of creating farmland is not economically viable. We must find a solution by creating a center for high technology and tourism there as the North Jeolla province government wants. A national consensus is needed to develop the relatively backward North Jeolla province.
Saemangeum is a major national project that suffered because of opposition from environmentalists. The confrontation that wasted enormous time and money shouldn’t be repeated. Now that the tiresome four and a half-year court battle has reached the final stage, we hope that environmentalists join in efforts to create an environment-friendly development plan, instead of objecting unconditionally.