Provincial leader changes stand to back river project

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Provincial leader changes stand to back river project

In a turnaround, the South Chungcheong Province yesterday announced that it would continue construction work planned as part of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s four major river restoration project.

Following the Land Ministry’s request for the province to declare its position about continuing the project by tomorrow, the South Chungcheong provincial government yesterday replied that it will continue the construction for now, but needs time to consult with the National Assembly and the regional community.

“It is meaningless to ask whether we will give up the project that had already been started and is progressing normally,” the provincial government said. “If we find problems with the project while implementing it, we will come up with alternatives and consult with the government to make modifications.”

The position is a clear reversal of South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung’s adamant opposition to Lee’s flagship project.

While the central government has promoted the massive development programs along the Han, Geum, Nakdong and Yeongsan rivers as part of a grand project to improve the environment and create jobs, the opposition Democratic Party has been skeptical of its effectiveness.

“Work has progressed significantly on the four sites along the Geum River in South Chungcheong,” said Kim Jong-min, deputy governor of the province. “In those sites, where there were no plans to build reservoirs or dredge mud from the river, we have no reason to oppose the construction at this time.”

The province has asked the Land Ministry to allow it to survey the project to propose modifications to the government by the end of September.

With South Chungcheong’s policy shift, South Gyeongsang province is now the only region that opposes the project. Kim Du-kwan, newly elected governor and a former Democrat, had made his opposition an election pledge and suspended construction at some sites in his province after he assumed the post.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party said yesterday that the project should be scaled down, saying some of the funding earmarked for construction should be diverted for education and welfare programs.

In a press conference at the National Assembly, the DP’s special committee said the state-led construction programs along the Han, Geum, Nakdong and Yeongsan rivers were inappropriately designed, with the potential that the projects would harm the environment rather than improve it.

“The government said the goals of the project were preventing floods, securing water resources, improving water quality and creating jobs,” said Rep. Lee Mi-kyung, who heads the committee. “And yet, the current construction plans do not satisfy the stated goals.”

Demanding that the project be modified and money be reallocated, Lee said the National Assembly should form a verification committee before the project proceeds any further. She said landscaping and dredging plans should be minimized and the government should pay more attention to improving the environment along the tributaries of major rivers.

The DP presented its version of a development plan for the Geum River in South Chungcheong yesterday, promising to present modifications for the three other rivers.

The Democrats said the 1.7 trillion won ($1.46 billion) earmarked for the Geum River development includes many unnecessary programs, claiming that the party’s new development blueprint will save at least 134 billion won.

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

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