Court blocks further Saemangeum reclamation
The Seoul Administrative Court has today ruled in favor of environmental conservation in a legal suit challenging the controversial Saemangeum Reclamation Project brought by environmental groups and local people living around the Saemangeum tidal-flats.
The 40,000ha Saemangeum project on South Korea's west coast has generated enormous controversy as the area supports the livelihoods of an estimated 25,000 people and some of the largest and most important concentrations of migratory birds in Asia.
The court ruled that no economic benefits can be expected from the reclamation project because of the anticipated economic losses caused by water pollution in the proposed reclamation reservoir, and by the destruction of the tidal-flat ecosystem.
As a result the court ruled it necessary to cancel or change the permit to reclaim the public water area, because the environmental, ecological and economic damage to be expected from the project is huge and irreversible. They listed the following reasons to support their ruling to change or cancel the original permit:
- the possibility of using land reclaimed through the project for agriculture is very low
- it is anticipated that the water quality in the reclamation reservoir will be too poor to use for agriculture
- estimates of economic benefits to be derived from converting the existing area to agriculture are flawed
- massive damage will be caused to the tidal-flat ecosystem
The court added that no decision has yet been made on the end-use of the land to be reclaimed, but reiterated that it cannot be used for agriculture as water in the reclamation reservoir created for that purpose will be too polluted.
The court did not rule against continuing work to reinforce the existing sea wall, but did rule against further construction required to close the remaining 2.7km stretch that remains open.
"The Saemangeum project will have one of the biggest environmental impacts of any construction project in Asia over the coming decade" —Richard Grimmett, Head of BirdLife's Asia Division
Earlier, the court had tried to suggest a way forward by recommending that further research be conducted before their final ruling was made. It also recommended that the government should halt the project and set up a committee of experts to review fully the potential environmental and economic consequences of the reclamation. The court also suggested that parliament should legislate a special law to help iron out such issues. Although, environmental groups and local fishermen had welcomed these recommendations, the government and the ruling Uri Party openly rejected them on 28 January.
As the court has now ruled in favor of environmental conservation, the government's next action will be to bring the case to the Seoul High Court.
(Translated by Ma Yong-Un [KFEM]; edited by Nial Moores [Birds Korea].)