Sunday, December 23, 2012

*SIGH* Miramar Hotel BOT Project gets conditional EIA approval

A list of build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects in Taitung county. Following the developer credo: there is no place so beautiful that it can't use more concrete.

The Taipei Times reports:
The controversial construction of Miramar Resort Village at Taitung County’s Shanyuan Bay (杉原灣) gained conditional approval from a seventh Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) meeting yesterday, despite heated debate over the legitimacy of the project and the EIA meeting.
According to the Taipei Times, the project was created to get around the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process by making the initial building site less than one hectare in size. It was then expanded. Several years ago I heard longtime environmental activist Robin Winkler speak on EIAs in Taiwan:
Another problematic structural feature of the process is that the corporations themselves hire the outside consultants who perform the EIA -- meaning that it will probably reflect the concerns of the corporation. Further, the way the law is written, the EIA applies to projects of certain sizes -- meaning that it can be skirted simply by breaking the project up into small pieces and labeling each a separate project (fans of tax evasion in Taiwan will see an eerie echo of the subcontracting system).
The county government piously fined the construction company $300,000 NT for exceeding the 0.9 hectare land limit for the project a few years ago; activists have long accused the county government of being in collusion with the land developer. According to that Taiwan News report, the beach is rented for just $125,000 NT.

The "conditional pass" is also a feature of regulatory inaction in Taiwan; the conditions are given lip service and the construction (or media merger, in the WantWant purchase of Next Media) goes forward. As Winkler pointed out in the seminar I summarized above, no project has ever been killed by a failed environmental assessment. In fact the EPA has intervened on behalf of polluters to allow them to pollute. For example, see this post where, similar to the Miramar case, a judge apparently killed a project only to find that reports of its funeral were premature.

Wild at Heart gives a thumbnail of the case, beautifully written:
So what is it that has people so up and against the Miramar resort? Let’s start with its blatant disregard for the law. It all started in 2004 when the Taitung County government signed a BOT (build operate transfer) contract with the Miramar Group, a multi million dollar corporation which owns the Miramar Entertainment Park in Taipei, as well as a wide range of businesses including other hotels department stores, real estate and petrol stations. The developers were granted a building license which allowed them to build without an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment); however, in order to sidestep the EIA, the construction could not exceed .9 hectares of land. With this license, the developers simply applied for an expansion permit the following year and then continued to build the resort six times the size of what the license permitted, with no EIA being conducted. This came to the attention of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and they ruled that construction must be stopped until an EIA was approved. The Taitung County government then quickly pushed an EIA through, with five of the assessment members conveniently being Taitung County officials. In 2010 the High Court ruled that the EIA was flawed for this very reason along with the fact that the government had not provided sufficient scientific evidence that the project would not pollute the ocean. Then, in February of this year, the Supreme Administrative Court again ruled that the EIA was invalid and that construction “should” be stopped. The most recent verdict was just announced on September 21st, 2012, bringing news that the indigenous groups and the NGOs have won the latest injunction and the Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that construction must be discontinued.
Alas, as so many of us cynically predicted in September, construction goes on regardless. The one true sin in Taiwan is to stand between a developer and his profits; everything else is negotiable.

UPDATE: A friend points out that in the courts have no power to cite violators of injunctions for contempt and either toss them in jail or massively fine them, as US courts do.
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