Issues plagued four-rivers project

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Issues plagued four-rivers project

The four-rivers restoration project carried out by the Lee Myung-bak administration managed to achieve some of its intended goals, but it also had a number of undesirable side effects due to hasty construction, which cost 22 trillion won ($19.9 billion) in tax money, a special government panel said on Tuesday.

In announcing the results on Tuesday of its 18-month investigation into the river refurbishment project, the special panel under the Prime Minister’s Office cited the technological limits in the management of the rivers. It also noted the government’s hasty push to complete construction under a limited timetable as one of the main reasons for the negative environmental consequences.

In its report, the commission pointed to water leaks in dams at six locations along the Nakdong River and urged the government to come up with measures to prevent further leaks.

The team was comprised of 13 leading experts and supported by 79 civilian experts who led on-site investigations.

Widespread algal blooms in the Nakdong River have been mentioned by environmental civic groups and the main opposition party as one of the most obvious environment harms caused by the project.

The panel said that the water more frequently stagnated in the reservoirs due to dredging and the damming.

Aside from the algal blooms, water quality in the upper part of the Nakdong River and the Yeongsan River has worsened since the completion of the project, the panel said.

In order to improve water quality, the panel suggested a more frequent flow of water between rivers by opening the dams to maintain the appropriate amount of water in reservoirs.

In its findings, the investigative team also discovered that ecological parks adjacent to the four rivers were constructed without consideration for the ecological balance of the area.

According to Joo Ki-jae, a biological sciences professor at Pusan National University, those parks “require a complete overhaul” to fix the problems.

From its inception, the Lee government’s signature project to refurbish the Nakdong, Geunm, Yeongsan and Han rivers was a subject of controversy and political wrangling. Its potential benefits and adverse effects were of particular concern, especially considering the project’s phenomenal cost.

Critics of the project have claimed the construction of the dams led to a degradation of water quality and that former President Lee pushed the project only to indulge his long-time supporters in the construction industry, where Lee built his career as a successful businessman.

The panel’s findings come 17 months after an investigation by the Board of Audit and Inspection discovered that the venture had some negative environmental impact.

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), which has been calling for a special parliamentary probe into the four-rivers restoration project, cited the Tuesday report in its argument calling for a tougher investigation into the Lee administration.

“Though it has been confirmed that the four rivers project is a failure once again, following the Board of Audit and Inspection’s finding, it has also been confirmed that a full-fledged investigation independent of the Park administration is needed,” said the opposition in a statement.

The main opposition party also criticized the panel for not addressing what should be done about the constructed dams, which were found to have contributed to worsened water quality.

“To lay bare the truth and hold those accountable [for having harmed the environment and wasted tax payers’ money], we need a special parliamentary probe as well as a special prosecutorial investigation,” it read.

The ruling Saenuri Party has so far rejected such demands, saying the NPAD’s calls are politically motivated and that its demand for a special inquiry is merely an attempt to tarnish the previous administration.

However, it is still possible that the ruling party will accept the opposition’s demand in exchange for its cooperation on other policies.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]


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