Court deems Jeju naval base lawful

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Court deems Jeju naval base lawful

The Seoul High Court yesterday upheld the previous ruling by the top court that the construction of a controversial naval base on southern Jeju Island is lawful, rejecting complaints filed by Gangjeong Village residents that called for a halt to the construction plan.

“The most important factor in this case was to rule whether it was unlawful for the military to have approved the construction project [in early 2009] when the document assessing environmental impacts was not yet submitted,” the court said in a statement yesterday.

“And it should be understood that the environmental-assessment of the naval base project was indeed submitted before the ‘basic design plan’ was approved, and not the ‘enforcement plan.’?”

The court added that “Since the environmental-assessment result was submitted before the approval of the basic design plan, the approval of the naval base construction project [by the military] is not unlawful.”

The Seoul High Court’s ruling comes after the Supreme Court in July judged in favor of the military, overturning an earlier ruling by the lower court that the initial construction plan approved by the Ministry of National Defense in 2009 was invalid.

The lower court had said that “the construction’s impact on the environment hadn’t been properly assessed.”

After the top court’s ruling in July, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Seoul High Court for reconsideration.

Building the naval base on Jeju has been questioned by more than 430 villagers of Gangjeong Village, who jointly filed a lawsuit against the country’s national defense minister in April 2009.

The villagers complained that permission to build the naval base was given in January 2009, when the ministry had not evaluated the environmental impact of the project.

It was during the lawsuit in March 2009 that the Defense Ministry approved the amended project plan that includes an environmental assessment.

The naval base construction project calls for a modern military port that could hold up to 20 warships simultaneously, along with 150,000-ton cruise ships.

The military aims to complete the construction by 2015, which will then allow Korea to send naval vessels into the South Sea, which is a key trade route.

Civic groups, environmental activists and residents, however, are opposed to the construction plan and have staged protests and taken legal steps to halt construction.

What they are concerned with is the environmental damage the project brings to the area, which has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco.

“It is only fair that the court judged the case clearly,” said an official from the Defense Ministry. “There should be no more controversy regarding this project with today’s ruling and the construction should now pick up speed for the sake of maritime security.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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