Go to contents

The Future of the Saemangeum Land Reclamation Project

Posted February. 04, 2005 22:54,   


The Saemangeum land reclamation project is now facing a long-term halt after a court sided with environmental groups on February 4 due to concerns over environmental damage by the project.

Therefore, huge economic damage as a result of the project delay are expected, since the Ministry of Agriculture is planning to file an appeal, and environmental groups are likely to apply for a provisional disposition suspending the construction.

Annual Loss of 86 Billion Won—

If a series of trials hampers the construction, the damage would reach 86 billion won annually, the Ministry of Agriculture estimates. In other words, each household will have to pay 5,970 won every year.

The estimated direct damage caused by suspension of the construction would reach as much as 80 billion won, the ministry says. In 2003, when the court ruled a temporary suspension on the construction, stone baskets and sand were washed away, costing the project 80 billion won in damages.

The indirect damage cause by the increased price is around six billion won per year. The ministry explained that a one-year delay in executing the construction expenses of 150 billion won would result a loss equivalent to the price increase rate (when supposedly, the annual rate is four percent).

If intangible social and economic costs are added, the amount of loss will be far larger.

Meanwhile, the total construction expenses for the Saemangeum land reclamation project are 2.05 trillion won. Up until late last year, 1.7 trillion won had been invested and an additional 150 billion won is scheduled for 2005 and 2006, respectively.

How Will the Construction Progress?—

It is possible that the Ministry of Agriculture will object to the court’s ruling and appeal to a higher court. The construction, in this case, could continue, but if the ministry loses again in appeals court, the burden will be not easy to deal with.

The ministry could accept the findings and make partial changes to the project as well.

However, the plaintiff, as for now, is unlikely to accept the project without overall changes. In this case, therefore, a series of lawsuits are expected to repeat.

But, as for now, the plaintiff does not stand to gain much benefit from winning the case because as the court did not actually rule for a suspension of the construction, the situation itself has not changed much from before.

“Since the court’s finding does not call for project suspension, we are going to continue construction on the conduit gate valves and the seawall reinforcement,” said Lee Won-gyu, department manager of foundation maintenance at the Ministry of Agriculture.

It is expected that the plaintiff, if the ministry appeals, will ask for a suspension of the existing project according to the administrative litigation law. Environmental groups are only allowed to apply for a civil provisional injunction against the seawall construction, scheduled for December in the current project.

Besides, the hearing itself would take considerable time. In either case, as long as the government sticks to the project, a prolonged court battle between the two is obvious.

Construction Progress and Its Outlook—

The construction that the government is currently working on is to dam the water, build conduit gate valves, and reinforce the seawall.

Currently, 91.8 percent of the construction has been completed. Only 2.7 km of the entire section of 33 km between Buan-gun and Bieung Island in North Jeolla Province is not finished yet. The government plans to finish the construction by late 2006.

In the meantime, the seawater speed of the uncompleted section has increased from 1m/s to 5m/s. If the floor protection equipments are washed away, the construction is highly likely to be delayed.

In the followed trials from now on, water pollution and land-use change issues are likely to become the focus. “According to a study last year, the Mangyeong River and Donggyeong River near the reclamation area deteriorated compared to their condition in 2003, which could be interpreted to mean that the water pollution in the area might be getting worse,” said Professor Oh Chang-hwan of the Department of Earth Environment Science at Chonbuk National University.

legman@donga.com woogija@donga.com