Listen to the Public on the Grand Canal Project

      May 22, 2008 10:16

      In a meeting with provincial government officials from Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, President Lee Myung-bak referred to the construction of the Pan-Korea Grand Canal and said the connection of the Han and Nakdong rivers may have to be postponed, since it seems to worry people. This was the first time the president announced he will not push ahead with the construction of the Joryeong Tunnel, which would make up the centerpiece of the waterway linking the rivers and was the most controversial portion of the project. The president’s comments can be viewed as a step back, acknowledging huge public opposition.

      “Strangely enough, rivers are being used like sewers in our country,” the president said. “This matter should be addressed.” He added, “I've heard that the provincial governments of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province are mapping out new comprehensive logistics strategies comprising new air and waterway routes. Their thorough implementation would help make economic revival visible in as little as a year.”

      But postponing the construction of the Joryeong Tunnel will not completely quell controversy over the waterway. That’s because the project itself has not been scrapped, but will be pursued in stages. The president was saying that construction will take place first on the existing water routes in the Han, Nakdong, Yeongsan and Geum rivers, while linking them will be decided after gauging public sentiment. Certain members of the ruling party had already proposed such a phased construction of the Grand Canal.

      Damage from flooding along the Nakdong River basin is said to cost the government W800 billion (US$1=W1,042) a year. Sediment has piled up for years on the bottom of our rivers, driving the water levels higher. As a result, even a small amount of rain causes flooding. There is no disagreement on the need to dredge the accumulated sediment and refurbish our waterways: that’s how we can save our rivers.

      But there are clear differences in terms of the size and substance of construction projects aimed at flood prevention and the creation of a huge canal. If so, controversy over environmental concerns and the economic feasibility of the waterway still remain. There are still questions as to whether the canal can be financed using private sector capital. Even if the Han and Nakdong rivers are linked, critics say the volume of cargo traffic will be limited, raising doubts over the economic feasibility of the waterway, not to mention the linking of the separate routes.

      The government has said on several occasions that it would gauge public sentiment before going ahead with the grand canal project and that it would not force it. Even construction projects aimed at flood prevention, if they are part of the canal, should progress only after asking public opinion. This is the only way there will be no trouble in the years ahead.
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