May 26, 2008 09:45
Opposition to the cross-country canal project is growing even after President Lee Myung-bak last Wednesday said he is putting his original plan to connect all the major water systems across the country on the back burner.
Lee said he plans instead to improve environments in four major rivers -- the Han, the Nakdong, the Geum, and the Yeongsan rivers -- apparently in preparation for the connection of these waterways later. This suggests he basically revised the project from wholesale to gradual implementation -- a change critics feel is tactical rather than substantial.
One researcher at a government-funded think tank has openly said the “real purpose” of connecting a few waterways and dredging the four major rivers is to build the cross-country canal in the end.
Kim I-tae, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Construction Technology, in an article posted on a portal site last Friday said the "table of contents" in the government's river revitalization plan has been revised, but not the content itself.
"I’m being asked almost every day by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs to formulate answers to the arguments of opponents, but I can't come up with alternatives to outsmart them," he said. Most damagingly, he adds, "What claims to be a 10-year study (on the canal's benefits) by experts has no substance."
The ministry on April 17 outsourced research on the government's comprehensive plan to connect waterways and manage the five largest rivers to KICT. A water quality expert, Kim has been participating in this research project.
The ministry denies putting any pressure on the think tank. KICT vice president Woo Hyo-seop said the research merely aims to find out whether the canal is helpful to flood control and river improvement. “It's inconceivable that the ongoing research is based on a premeditated conclusion,” he added.
Kim's open criticism has fueled an anti-canal campaign. His article had been read by more than 370,000 web users as of Sunday afternoon, and more than 35,000 have joined an online signature collection campaign “to protect Kim I-tae.”
A senior government official said, "At present, any comment on the grand canal by the government sparks further opposition. It seems hard to make predictions on any schedule or plan related to the grand canal project for the time being."
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