Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Suhua Highway on the Ropes?

The Hualien county council rejected an attempt to hold a referendum on the controversial Suhua Highway....
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.

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.
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:

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.

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 rejection of the referendum is interesting, given the shocking defeat of the KMT-backed casino referendum in the Penghu earlier this year.
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Anonymous said...

Except the Taitung case happened under a DPP administration. I wonder why the didn't intervene...

As for the highway, I think it clearly shows that the Taiwanese state has not been completely captured by "construction-industrial" interests.
Holding a referendum involving only Hualian residents would also be ridiculous, since the money for the highway has to come from the central government.

Anonymous said...

I don't get why these assholes can't ship their gravel by sea. Sea is very cheap per mile.

Something I don't understand is why they don't upgrade Taiwan Railways. It's more expensive than bus and slow compared to high speed rail, but damn is a train comfortable vs anything else, its locations are very good, and everyone loves it. On weekends it's completely booked on both the east and west coasts. But they have a horrible ticketing system and other than buying the Taroko line to greatly speed up trips to Hualien, they haven't upgraded much else. Many cars are 30 years old or more!

And what the hell happened to Ma's plan of creating a super convenient island wide public transportation network?

Carlos said...

Is it really so bad to give them a freeway? A safe road in and out doesn't sound unreasonable at all. And with some care and possibly a little bit more money, it doesn't have to be an ecological disaster.

jerome said...

I can hear Hsu Chen-wei (徐榛蔚)’s sigh, when she hisses to fuming Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁),「暗君も無為にして化すとは何よりなり」

I propose renaming the old SuHua highway Wuwei「無為」Highway. In Japanese, it would sound much like « buoy », which is fitting as spirits are buoy-ed up by the thought of the one-two punch his rotten lordship was delivered.

Raj said...

The beef matter is so stupid. There is no more danger from US beef than any other country where it's mass-produced. It's just public hysteria.

But, hey, if Taiwan wants to sacrifice trade talks with the US and be reliant on China that's it's choice!

Michael Turton said...

Carlos, in principal it wouldn't be a bad idea, but the problem is that the plan calls for some atrocious stuff, and the long run will lead to great exploitation of gravel and river destruction on the east coast.

Anonymous said...

That's funny Raj because Australian and New Zealand beef has never been found to have mad cow. US industrial agricultural practices are absolutely disgusting. These cows get mad cow because they cut up cow scraps and reprocess cow dung and re-feed this back to cows. If they stuck to a completely grain diet and weren't eating their own shit, there would be much less risk of disease, mad cow or otherwise.

But no, they don't want to give up this 2% efficiency so that everyone can eat sanitary beef.

Anonymous said...

The beef issue is red herring. If there were real concern in Taiwan about the dangerous crap that the US exports, then it should start with all the GMO products and the high fructose-laden junk food that chubby Taiwan kids are now devouring. But since UNI-President Corp owns most of these fat food franchises, I don't the Legislative Yuan will act as aggressively as they did on the beef products

阿牛 said...

Miss everyone there, too!

ropes said...

I totally agree with the Carlos it is really bad to give them a Free way.I think that the safe road in and out doesn't sound unreasonable at all.