The Korea Herald


Stream refurbishment project faces backlash

By 배지숙

Published : April 14, 2011 - 18:25

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Criticism is mounting over the government’s plan to pour another 20 trillion won ($19 billion) into redeveloping more than 3,000 tributaries of the country’s four major rivers.

While the announcement was perceived by opposition lawmakers and environmentalists as an admission of failure of the original 22.2 trillion won four-river refurbishment plan, some expressed concerns over how to finance the new plan.

The plan, announced Wednesday by the environment, land, maritime affairs and agriculture ministries, aims to refurbish tributaries to maintain the quality of the four major rivers ― Han, Geum, Nakdong and Yeongsan.

It will enhance the eco systems of 61 central government-administered streams and 3,833 local administration-governed streams, officials contend.

The project will also act as a countermeasure against flood damage and water pollution, they said.

The length of the streams in question is about 30,000 kilometers. About 5,500 kilometers will be refurbished by 2015 as a first step and the rest will be carried out by 2020.

“The project will become another major innovation to the country,” Vice Environment Minister Moon Jung-ho said.

According to Rep. Kang Ki-kab of the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party, a total of 801 local governments have applied to conduct the project already.

Environmentalists denounced the government for wasting money on unnecessary projects.

“We have always stressed that management of tributaries and small streams will prevent floods and other natural disasters and that we won’t even need to refurbish the four rivers,” Ahn Cheol, spokesman for the Korea Federation for Environment Movements, said. “The government is finally admitting that the four river refurbishment won’t improve the environment. Moreover, I am worried whether the refurbishment will be another cement-concrete oriented construction like the Cheonggye stream in central Seoul.”

How the project will be financed is also controversial. The Environment Ministry is expected to provide 10 trillion while the Land Ministry will allocate 6 trillion and the Agriculture Ministry about 3 trillion. But Moon admitted that the government hasn’t yet figured out how to raise the money, while the construction is expected to begin no later than the end of the year.

As the budget for the four-river refurbishment soared to 22 trillion won from the initially estimated 14 trillion won in less than six months, there is concern that the cost may become astronomical, insiders say.

“There are numerous past records of gigantic sums of money being wasted on useless projects for political reasons. The government shouldn’t announce such huge projects without securing financial sources first,” professor Yim Joo-young of University of Seoul said.

Some observers raised the theory that the plan is designed to soothe public antipathy toward rows over scrapped projects including the science industrial complex, a new international airport and others.

“The plan is belated and too large. There must be another political scheme underneath it,” one observer said.

By Bae Ji-sook (