Fury over rivers project ultimatum

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Fury over rivers project ultimatum

The conflict between the central government and liberal governors in South Gyeongsang and South Chungcheong over the four major rivers restoration project deepened after the provincial governors complained bitterly about a Land Ministry’s demand that they declare their positions this week.

The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs sent letters at the end of last month to South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Du-kwan and South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung to inquire whether they will continue construction along rivers in their regions, or let the central government take over the project.

In a Twitter posting, Governor An wrote, “The government is asking whether I want to do the four rivers [project] or not. I have asked them to talk about it, but they just sent a letter to a provincial government official, as if it was an ultimatum. The administration's attitude is rude.”

Governor Kim said Monday, “I am baffled to receive the ultimatum. It is hard to respond before Friday. I will listen to experts’ opinions and take time to think.”

Both Kim and An, liberal opposition politicians who were elected in local elections in June, disapprove of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s flagship program. They voiced their opposition to Lee during a Blue House meeting at the end of last month, and Lee told them they should not “gang up” on his administration over the project, calling it “a matter of policy, not a matter of politics.”

An is a member of the Democratic Party and Kim is a former Democrat currently with no party affiliation.

The Land Ministry said the two governors never formalized their decisions to end construction on the projects. To officially sort out the issue, the ministry sent letters to them at the end of last month asking about their intentions regarding construction in their regions. In the letters, the ministry asked Kim and An to state their decisions by Friday.

The government launched the 22 trillion won ($19 billion) project last November to clean and refurbish four rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan - in a bid to help prevent floods and attract tourists. Critics say the plan will devastate the environment and ecosystem.

Of the 170 construction sites along the four rivers, provincial governments were in charge of 54 places. South Gyeongsaig is in charge of 13 of the 54 sites, but Kim halted construction in some areas.

Under An’s leadership, South Chungcheong is also reconsidering the construction work at four sites along the Geum River.

Land Ministry officials said construction will go on even if Kim and An decide to pull out of the project.

“The central government can just go ahead and finish it,” said Shim Myung-pil, head of the four rivers project headquarters.

Shim said he is willing to meet with Kim and An to talk about the project’s future. “I understand the provincial construction management administration heads had attempted to meet with Governors An and Kim after the local elections,” he said. “If necessary, I will meet with the two governors.”

Meanwhile, North Chungcheong province said it will continue to participate in the project. Asked about his position by the ministry at the end of last month, Governor Lee Si-jong, also a member of the Democratic Party, said, “There is no plan to dredge up mud from the river and build reservoirs in North Chungcheong, so I don't see a big problem. We have no intention to surrender the project.”

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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