New int’l airport sparks tug-of-war in southeast

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New int’l airport sparks tug-of-war in southeast

The government’s plan to build a new international airport in the southeastern part of the country seems stuck on the runway as high-octane competition has broken out between two regions eager to get the 10 trillion won ($8.9 billion) project.

Busan, Korea’s largest port city, wants the airport to be built on the city’s adjacent Gadeok Island. North Gyeongsang and Daegu want it built in the city of Miryang, about 30 miles south of Daegu. The two groups are trying to convince the Lee Myung-bak administration that their location is the best to service a southeastern region home to around 13 million people.

“Busan started pushing to be home to a new international airport a decade ago,” said Busan Mayor Hur Nam-sik. “I don’t know why Daegu and North Gyeongsang province are interfering.”

In fact, Busan hasn’t been as aggressive as Daegu, which has mounted a petition drive for the airport and strung banners on its streets saying the airport should be built in Miryang.

But Busan is waking up to the challenge.

“I think our comparatively calmer approach has given the public the erroneous idea that we are not that enthusiastic,” Hur said. “So I decided to take more aggressive action. And I could not tolerate Daegu and North Gyeongsang spreading false information saying Busan is ill-suited for the project.”

Busan is now festooned with pro-airport banners and it is holding pep rallies attended by thousands of local residents. Hur said many people have the mistaken idea that an airport on Gadoek Island will be much more expensive than one on the mainland.

“People should not trust assertions from either side,” Hur said. “Estimates from the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs are the most credible.”

According to news reports quoted by Hur, an airport on Gadeok will cost 9.8 trillion won while one in Mirayng will cost 10.3 trillion won, although the ministry hasn’t officially confirmed the estimates yet.

Clinching the airport project was one of Daegu Mayor Kim Bum-il’s key campaign pledges last June.

“Considering accessibility, economic feasibility and safety, Miryang is the perfect place to locate the new airport,” said Kim. “Daegu’s economic situation is quite shaky. We were able to establish industrial complexes. But it’s not easy to attract international businesses.”

Kim said the first thing international businesses ask is whether there’s an international airport near his city.

Daegu says an airport in Busan would be too far from other parts of the southeastern region.

“It takes more than two hours to get from Daegu to Gadeok,” Kim said. “If it gets constructed there, it’s Busan Airport and not Southeastern Airport.

“Both Daegu and Busan have to accept the consequences when the ministry announces its decision.”

But some Miryang citizens don’t seem to mind where the airport goes.

One 57-year-old Mirayng resident surnamed Jeong said: “If a straight road gets built from Miryang to Busan’s Gadoek, it will only take 30 minutes by car.

“Airport construction in Miryang could affect the area positively but there are also negative aspects, such as noise pollution.”

Critics are also asking if a big new airport makes sense at all. Among 15 airports in the country, only four of them are making a profit, including Incheon and Gimpo in Seoul, Gimhae in Busan and Jeju.

The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs promised to announce in March its final decision on where to locate the airport after repeated delays since December last year.

By Kim Sang-jin, Yim Seung-hye []
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