Incheon’s luxury golf course battle

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Incheon’s luxury golf course battle

Dream Park Country Club in Seo District, Incheon, is a verdant golf course created on landfill. When the JoongAng Ilbo visited the club recently, spring flowers were blooming and its luxurious grounds were just waiting for golfers to use them.

The wait is destined to go quite a bit longer. The lights are turned off inside the golf club since no one is using the facilities. The club is caught in a management conflict involving the Sudokwon (Metropolitan Area) Landfill Management Corporation, the Incheon city government, local residents and the Ministry of Environment.

They can’t decide who should manage the facility, which was completed nine months ago.

In the meantime, the state-run landfill management corporation has spent 100 million won ($91,100) daily maintaining the empty golf club over the last nine months.

“They created a golf course for the public,” said Kim Song-won, secretary general of the Incheon Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, a residents lobbying group, “And now officialdom that has any kind of connection to the club are claiming the rights to this public property.”

Development of Dream Park started in September 2010 on 1.53 million square meters (378 acres) of landfill. Investment was 73.3 billion won, which was raised by the local government and other public institutions.

Conflict initially reared its head at a meeting hosted by the Ministry of Environment in March 2011 which was supposed to come up with a plan to outsource management of the club to a private company.

It turned out the head of the Landfill Management Corporation, the operator of the project, wasn’t even invited to the meeting.

The Environment Ministry said the club must be managed by a private company to be run efficiently. But the local government opposed handing over the valuable club to a private company. And rumors started spreading around the landfill corporation that officials at the Environment Ministry, including some former officials, were trying to take over the club by using a front company.

The landfill management corporation planned to establish a subsidiary company to manage the golf course. It said that plan would benefit Incheon citizens more and the facility could be used in 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

The landfill corporation decided to open the golf club last August and the Environment Ministry seemed to accept its plan to establish a subsidiary company.

But last July as a man surnamed Lee who said he runs a golf company distributed a press release to reporters at the Environment Ministry.

“I have been preparing a public tender to run the golf club for a year with 15 newly hired officials,” Lee said in the press release. “The Environment Ministry has requested the landfill management corporation to accept the ministry’s plan, but they ignored the proposal.”

The Environment Ministry ordered the landfill corporation not to establish a subsidiary to manage the club after that.

Meanwhile, the Incheon city government claimed its stake. It said it must have a role in operating Dream Park and would not give approval to open it until it was satisfied. City approval for the club to be opened as not been given.

During a parliamentary audit of the Environment Ministry last fall, it was criticized by lawmakers for delaying the club’s opening. The ministry promised to decide the management issue. But nothing has happened.

Cho Chun-goo, the head of the landfill corporation who wanted to run the club through a subsidiary, was ejected from his job after the December presidential election and the post has been empty since.

By Chung Ki-hwan [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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