Government rethinks environmental policies
(Note: This article is important for several reasons, from the government intent to stop all farming in areas where farming is vital to those living in those areas, to the presence of the EPA in Taiwan in an apparent very big way, to much more. It is deserving of your thoughtful and considered read.)
"Chingching, Wuling and Fushoushan farms will cease all farming activities within three years to allow the natural reforestation of the land. ... The government will offer incentives to residents living in these areas to encourage them to relocate and sell their land to the government."
July 30, 2004
By Lin Fang-yan
Taipei Journal
Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan)
As people of central and southern Taiwan keep trying to recover from the floods and mudslides caused by torrential rains in the wake of tropical storm Mindulle that hit the island July 1, the government has been considering changes to its approach to environmental protection. This includes a rethink of land development and conservation regulations.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun recently announced that the government would spend US$2.9 billion over the next 10 years on various land rezoning and conservation programs, as well as on community relocation projects. This is predicated upon the passage of a bill regulating reconstruction in disaster areas and restoration of land destroyed by floods or mudslides.

Although the Cabinet is still drafting the bill, it is expected to limit or outlaw development in mountain, coastal and flood-prone areas.

It would outlaw cultivating or otherwise developing steep slopes and fragile terrain, as well as areas above a designated altitude.

The government will offer incentives to residents living in these areas to encourage them to relocate and sell their land to the government.

Excessive land development has been a problem in Taiwan for decades, and this is not the first time that the issue of relocating aboriginal tribes has been discussed.

On September 21, 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale devastated central Taiwan and killed more than 2,400 people. Since then, the issue of resettling certain populations has been discussed, as have changes to the government's land use policies.

The disastrous flooding and mudslides triggered by heavy rains following tropical storm Mindulle served as a warning that the problem can no longer be ignored.

Rather than forcing aboriginal people to relocate off their ancestral lands, however, the government is determined to use soft tactics, such as opening the lines of communication with them and talking to them about moving away from areas deemed unsafe for human habitation.

So that indigenous people are not left homeless, the government will first build brand new residential communities on suitable land owned by the state-run Taiwan Sugar Corporation, and then recommend to aborigines that they relocate there.

In addition to offering compensation or providing public land to accommodate displaced indigenous people, continued Yu, the government will also create jobs for them.

The government will make every possible effort to help preserve their tribal cultures in their new environment.

The Executive Yuan has tasked three farms operated by the Veterans Affairs Commission to set an example of land conservation and ecological protection.

Chingching, Wuling and Fushoushan farms will cease all farming activities within three years to allow the natural reforestation of the land.

The government will not renew any leases on land currently used to grow fruit, vegetables or flowers.

These tenant farmers working government land have invested large sums of money in their businesses, and the decision not to renew their leases seems likely to put hundreds of people's livelihood in jeopardy.

To alleviate this problem, the government has promised to take every possible care to ensure that the policy is implemented through organized, intelligent planning.

This includes job placement services and financial compensation for the displaced farmers.

The flood damage of early July also prompted heated debate about whether the government should continue with its planned freeway between Suao and Hualien on Taiwan's east coast.

Ever since the freeway proposal was introduced in November as one of the Democratic Progressive Party administration's Ten New Major Construction Projects designed to boost the economy, it has been sharply criticized by environmental groups.

To address these concerns, the Cabinet set up a task force to coordinate with various government agencies in conducting an investigation into the likely impact of the planned freeway on the environment of eastern Taiwan. In response to public concern over environmental protection following tropical storm Mindulle, the task force, which is headed by Minister without Portfolio Lin Sheng-feng and composed of several environmental engineers, will also collect information about damage to the geological structures in central and eastern Taiwan caused in recent years by natural disasters. The task force will submit a report to the Cabinet as soon as possible.

The Suao-Hualien freeway passed an environmental impact assessment by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in March 2000.

The EPA report warned, however, that the project could have unexpected effects on the environment that would have to be dealt with.

Despite opposition to the freeway from environmentalists, the cancellation of the project could lead to protests from east coast residents hoping that the new highway would have contributed to economic development in the area.

According to a January poll commissioned by the Hualien County Government, 77 percent of county residents supported construction of the freeway, while 17 percent opposed it. Six percent had no opinion on the matter.

The premier promised that the government would defer to the experts on the task force in deciding whether to forge ahead with the project or to scrap it altogether. That decision would not be made until after the task force's report has been submitted.

The Cabinet is still mulling whether or not to spend the money needed to repair the fragile Kukuan-Techi section of the Central Cross-Island Highway, which was damaged by falling rocks, landslides and mudflows triggered by Mindulle. That section of road often falls victim to typhoons and earthquakes, which are relatively common events in Taiwan.

"With an injection of US$38 million, the segment of the road was originally due to reopen one week before Mindulle hit the country," said Yu. "It is estimated that the damage caused by Mindulle may cost an additional US$176 million."

A team of professional geologists assembled by the Cabinet is currently examining the practicability of fixing the damaged section again.

The floods and mudslides triggered by Mindulle buried homes and hotels, washed away bridges and roads, wiped out farmland and orchards and drowned more than 2.4 million fowl and livestock.

Twenty-nine people were killed, while 12 others are still missing.

Close to 9,500 people in central and southern Taiwan evacuated their homes, and more than 4,700 villagers and tourists were left stranded in remote mountainous areas.

Around 2,000 people were airlifted out of the disaster zone by helicopter, while the remainder had to survive on supplies that were airdropped in.

The total financial loss in all sectors was estimated at over US$360 million.