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Economics ministry weighs in on national park cement project

2016/05/26 22:29:17

Asia Cement's Hualien facility.

Taipei, May 26 (CNA) Economics officials said Thursday that the Asia Cement Co.'s mining project inside the Taroko National Park can be terminated next year as new Environment Minister Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) hopes, but the company's operations in the 417 hectares outside the park cannot be suspended without new legislation banning such activities.

Lee vowed Wednesday to ban all commercial development projects in Taiwan's national parks in the future, to protect the environment. "Taiwan must depart from a development-centric mindset and focus more energy on protecting the environment," Lee told a press conference.

His new "vision" immediately alarmed the Hualien County government, which said the livelihoods of more than 1,000 families would be affected if the minister's new policy was carried through.

Kuomintang Legislator Hsu Chen-wei (徐榛蔚), wife of Hualien County Magistrate Fu Kun-chi, said Lee should have listened to local people and should give them some time to adapt before announcing his new policy.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said Asia Cement obtained a license to develop a total of 442.7 hectares in Hualien in 1973. Some 25 hectares of the licensed mining district were zoned in the Taroko National Park when the park was established in 1986, but it did not affect Asia Cement's right to keep developing the land.

In 1994, Asia Cement requested government permission to continue using the mining district inside the park, a request that was granted the next year.

MOEA officials said the cement company later signed a contract with the park administration to keep mining inside the park until Nov. 22, 2017. Under the contract, the developer must revegetate the mining area to restore its "natural beauty" before the expiration of the contract, which both parties have agreed not to extend.

In fact, mining inside the park has already concluded and now vegetation work is being done, according to MOEA.

This means that Lee did not have to worry about the national park's ecology and did not even have to announce a ban on development projects in national parks. However, both the company and the MOEA were concerned that Lee might go ahead and ban mining in the 417 hectares outside the Taroko National Park.

Chu Chao-ming, director of the ministry's Department of Mines, said he was not sure if Lee was talking about banning both the land inside and outside of the Taroko National Park. "We have yet to talk with the Environmental Protection Administration to determine," Chu said.

Such a ban, if implemented, will likely be disputed because the company has a legal right to operate there and ask for permission to extend such a right if the company has no record of breaking the law, the officials said.

At the Legislature, KMT lawmaker Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) said while she supports Lee's policy of not allowing development projects in national parks, she would like to know if the government will have to compensate the private developer and if Lee's new policy has won the support of the MOEA and the Hualien County government.

Lee admitted he had not discussed the issue with either the MOEA or the county government, noting that he was just stating his "land development vision."

But he added that the government has the authority to issue mining permits, meaning it has the power to order a halt to a development project without being liable for compensation.

(By Yu Hsiao-han, Chen Chih-chung, Huang Chiao-wen, Lee Hsien-feng
and S.C. Chang)
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