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[Editorial] Cable car at Mt. Seoraksan

White elephant or goose laying golden eggs?

The latest proposal for a cable car to be installed at Mount Seoraksan National Park has deeply divided the proponents, who claim the cable car would boost the local economy, and the opponents, who argue the cable car would damage the environment and threaten gorals, an endangered goat-like species living in the area.

Proposals from Gangwon Province for a cable car taking off from Osaek in Mount Seoraksan National Park have already been twice rejected, in 2012 and 2013, by the National Park committee. For the third try, Gangwon Province changed the location of the terminal on the mountainside from Daecheongbong, the highest peak, to Kkeutcheongbong. The cable car would run a total length of 3 1/2 kilometers.

The new proposal was submitted in April following President Park Geun-hye’s remarks last October during a presentation on the PyeongChang Winter Olympics preparations that she would like to see a cable car project commence at an early date. With the go-ahead from Park, Gangwon Province prepared its third application and is confident that this time it will pass the review by the Environment Ministry’s National Park Committee.

For the Gangwon provincial government, generating tourist income is the primary aim of the cable car project. With mountains making up nearly 82 percent of the province, most of them protected areas where economic activities cannot take place, the prospect of a cable car bringing money is too attractive for the local government to ignore.

However, a report on the economic viability of the cable car operation drawn up by the Korea Environment Institute — a state think-tank — submitted to support the province’s cable car proposal has been criticized for greatly inflating the potential income. Critics point out that the projected number of users is inflated and that the estimated operating cost is actually lower than the labor cost, for example, to make it appear that the project would be a profitable venture. If the allegations are true, Gangwon Province could be saddled with a white elephant, not the goose that lays golden eggs.

While the project’s proponents argue that utmost care will be taken to do the least damage to the environment during the construction phase, such damage will be long lasting and the ecosystem may never recover from the disruptions and destructions introduced by the cable car. Other ways of enjoying the mountains could be explored for everyone, including the elderly and the disabled, which cause less damage to the ecosystem.

Mount Seoraksan National Park was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1982. In carrying out our pledge to conserve and reserve the ecosystem for future generations and for all mankind, we should not be blinded by prospects of quick monetary gains. The National Park Committee should make a thorough and independent review of the application for the cable car.