To clean American bases, Seoul likely to pay

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To clean American bases, Seoul likely to pay

Multiple sources with the local government said on Thursday that Korea has once again succumbed to the United States in negotiations over who will pay the environmental costs associated with disposing of harmful chemical materials at two U.S. military bases.

The bases - Camp Castle in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi, and the Defense Reutilization and Marking Office (DRMO) in Busan - are part of the Land Partnership Plan signed in 2002 that calls for a realignment of U.S. troops stationed nationwide in Korea and the efficient use of the land.

As a result, more than 45 U.S. military bases have been returned to the local government. The sources, who asked to go unnamed, said talks regarding both bases have nearly reached an end, with only the final signing left by the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Joint Committee.

It is unclear whether the knife attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert last week by a radical anti-American activist affected the veiled discussions.

Also unclear is the exact cost Seoul will have to pay to purify the bases.

Park Yong-gyu, who heads the Soil and Groundwater Division under the Ministry of Environment, said the amount can only be calculated after a thorough analysis of the land, a process that normally comes after restoring the property.

The cost for cleaning up Camp Hialeah in 2011 when it was returned to Busan was 14.3 billion won ($12.7 million), more than 50 times what local authorities anticipated. The miscalculation was based on data from the U.S. military that only 0.26 percent of the base was contaminated. It was later found to be 9.4 percent.

Approximately 42 percent of Camp Castle is estimated to be polluted by heavy metals and oil, while the corresponding percentage by the DRMO is 7.5. Camp Castle is scheduled for use by Dongyang University and the general public, and the Korea Rail Network Authority will likely take claim over the DRMO.

Environmental costs for U.S. military bases have long been a contentious issue between Seoul and Washington.

The two countries have chiefly locked horns over the interpretation of the SOFA, which stipulates that U.S. forces must compensate the Korean government over the use of land in cases when there are “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health” as a result.

“If the burden falls on us, there’s a high possibility that it will act as a precedent for the other bases that are in negotiation, like the Yongsan Garrison,” in central Seoul, said Seo Jae-cheol of Green Korea United.


BY LEE SUNG-EUN, KANG CHAN-SU AND YOO JEE-HYE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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