The government announced last week it was most likely to choose partial improvements to the existing road rather than build a completely new freeway between Suao in Yilan County and Hualien.The Suhua Highway (previous informative post)(another) has been a political football ever since it was initiated more than a decade ago. It was supported by Chen Shui-bian during both his administrations, but has bogged down in all sorts of conflicts. The ostensible reason for the development of the highway is to bring tourists and "development" to the backwater of Hualien, but the real reason is to make it easier to transport gravel and of course, to reward connected individuals with lucrative land deals. It will likely be an environmental disaster. As noted above:
Business interests looking to promote local economic development in sparsely populated Hualien have been at odds for over a decade with environmentalists who fear the freeway is more likely to destroy natural beauty instead of attracting more tourists.
Fu invited County Council Speaker Yang Wen-chih and his deputy Hsu Hsueh-yu to a news conference Monday morning where he said he would not exclude calling a referendum if the government refused to build the freeway.
The central government should be forced to accept local public opinion and stop treating Hualien residents like third-class citizens, Fu said.
However, after Yang returned to the council, members said a county government proposal to amend local legislation in order to allow referendums had been submitted too late. The proposal should not even be discussed by the council, some members said.
As the CNA piece observes, the highway was the centerpiece of current Hualien County Chief Fu Kun-chi, who notoriously divorced his wife and appointed her his deputy as he is likely bound for prison. Once in prison, she would then become the county magistrate. The Ministry of the Interior blew the whistle on this on a household registration technicality, a move blasted in the pan-Green papers, who observed that in an identical case involving a KMT politician in Taitung, the MOI had exhibited a strange reluctance to move on it, but when an independent like Fu won, it immediately moved to block his machinations to maintain a grip on the position. Fu, hugely popular in Hualien in part because he owns a local newspaper, had defeated the KMT candidate handily. The KMT had refused to permit him to run under its corruption rules, so he left the party and ran as an independent.
The four-lane highway would connect two towns on the east coast, Suao and Hualien, and require 11 tunnels and 27 bridges on a route that runs through breathtaking mountains that descend into the sea. The highway would pass through eight reserves and beauty spots including the Taroko Gorge, one of the island’s main tourist sites, inflicting damage on all of them.
The bare-knuckle contest over the highway is a throwback to a pork-barrel era of politics in which the beneficiaries will be the construction firms that get the contracts, insiders who will be well compensated for land they have bought on the highway route and politicians receiving kickbacks. The huge expense and the fierce opposition of the environmental lobby are the reasons why the highway has not been built since it was first proposed in 1990.
For its supporters, the road would link Hualien to the highway network that emanates from Taipei, cutting the driving time to the capital from four hours to two and making it a more attractive destination for investors and tourists. Companies that produce goods in the town would be able to move them more quickly to domestic and foreign consumers. This influx of visitors and capital would raise the value of land and property in Hualien and bring more business to its shops, restaurants and other retail businesses.
The rejection of the referendum is interesting, given the shocking defeat of the KMT-backed casino referendum in the Penghu earlier this year.
- Maddog's videos of last week's march in Taichung: Part One -- Part Two -- Part Three
- Make your own bike frame from bamboo.
- Sun Moon Lake cable car system opens
- Partial ban on US beef to continue, both KMT and DPP agree. Oh Lord, please transport me to an alternate universe where cattle never evolved, so I never have to hear the phrase "American beef" again.
- A-gu with an analysis of a discussion on ECFA referendums. I miss you, man.
- Save the Taiwan Dolphin with a translation of a Formosa Plastics report on high cancer rates in Mailiao.
- Filipinos no longer maids of choice in Taiwan: their support network has teeth, so local employers won't use them.
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