Listen to the peopleThe government’s ambitious four-rivers restoration project is in jeopardy even though construction is well underway, with opposition mounting from local governments in several areas covered by the plan.
The South Gyeongsang provincial government recently sent a letter to the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs expressing its concern over potential damage to residents and ecosystems from dredging tied to the project. Officials from South Chungcheong also are drafting a letter of opposition to the construction of a dam and planned dredging after reanalyzing the project.
Local governments currently have the authority to independently choose a contractor to handle the portions of the four-rivers restoration project in their respective areas. But the ministry is now considering taking back the authority from governments that complain about or oppose the project. South Gyeongsang and South Chungcheong, however, are refusing to give up the right to choose their contractors. South Gyeongsang is even threatening to file a lawsuit if the ministry takes back its authority.
The project, which was controversial from the start, has grown even more contentious over time and could now trigger an unprecedented court fight between the central and local governments. We have repeatedly urged the central government to resolve the controversy by hosting public debates on the scientific, engineering and environmental aspects of the project. Yet it has once again failed to market the project and persuade the people of its value.
Meanwhile, opposition parties and some civilian and religious groups have waged a campaign against the project, exacerbating the conflict and heightening misunderstanding. The head-on clash between central and local governments could serve as a fatal blow to the project.
We believe it is too environmentally dangerous and economically risky to stop construction, as officials have completed roughly 30 percent of the project. Besides, most residents living near the rivers support the plan, including those in the Buyeo and Gongju areas of South Chungcheong.
Residents directly affected by the development should be heard first. Local governments should not block state projects that the majority of their residents approve. Such moves can lead to conflict with the central government, which sets a bad precedent. Local governments must seriously assess what’s in the best interest of their residents and proceed from there.