How the Korean Media reported the Saemangeum Ruling...

Birds Korea comment

The Court Ruling of February 4th was undoubtedly extremely important: it signalled that Korea has an independent judiciary; that from this date on a precedent has been set which says that development must take the environment into account; and that the environment has legal protection.

What needs to be understood though is that this decision has not been welcomed throughout Korea. The media - as would be expected - has come out with some very different opinions and editorials (though all now recognise that the reclamation is at the very least "controversial"). Some newspapers question the wisdom of the court's decision whilst others welcome it. Some see the decision as resulting from the pressures of "extreme environmentalism", whilst others state that the ruling was an inevitable result of poor Governmental planning. Some urge the government to continue regardless, whilst others worry about the long-term impact on future "national projects".

The fight over the future of the Saemangeum wetlands is extremely complex, and it is certainly not finished yet. The view of Birds Korea is straightforward: we want the project halted before the damage it is causing becomes irreversible, and that's what we will continue to work for, but it must be understood by all of us fighting this reclamation that ours is just one opinion amongst many.

In other words - the court ruling was not a final victory.
"February 4th" was a great win, but there are many more battles ahead...

The Korea Herald

Court orders government to reconsider Saemangeum: 2005.02.05

A local court yesterday ordered the government to reconsider the controversial Saemangeum reclamation project along the southwestern coastline of North Jeolla Province, citing potential environmental hazards.

The ruling forces the Ministry of Agriculture to consider three options: discard the project, alter the project aim of creating farm land and aresovoir, or appeal to a higher court.

The Seoul Administrative Court, however, rejected the plaintiffs' petition for an immediate halt to the project, which calls for the preservation of an existing sea wall and the addition of 2.7 kilometers to the coastal barrier.

The ruling came in response to the government's refusal to accept the court's earlier recommendation of further research before it ruled on the case.

The court raised possible environmental and business threats cited by thousands of environmental activists in 2001.

The project, which began in 1991, was initially designed to convert about 120 million pyeong of mud flats into farmland and a reservoir by building a 33-kilometer coastal sea wall.

Since then, the project goal has changed to include industrial and tour complexes, company towns and even golf courses.

One pyeong is equal to 3.3 square meters. About 2 trillion won has been poured into the project.

The government is unlikely to achieve the initial purpose of securing farm land, and it will be impossible to maintain water quality, the court said.

"The project inevitably needs to either cancel or change the authorization for the development, as it had no economic accountability and has a high possibility of wreaking havoc on the environment," the court said.

The environmental groups welcomed the ruling, but vowed to file an another suit aimed at stopping the government from the remaining work on the sea dike.

The Agriculture Ministry said it will release its official response after consulting with other related authorities on whether to appeal to a higher court.

"It looks as if it is a political ruling that is intentionally vague, so we'll have to see about it," said a government official who did not want to be identified.

Residents, some civic groups and officials in the Jeolla Province angrily responded to the ruling, according the Yonhap news agency.

Some officials at the regional government office branded the ruling as the "worst" ruling ever and vowed to shave their head in defiance of the ruling.

"I cannot withhold the disppointment and anger, as the ruling tramps on people's wish to balance out the underdeveloped region, said Kim Jong-ryang, an official at an organization for regional development.


(6th LD) Court Orders Gov't to Rethink Saemangeum Project: 2005.02.05

SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- A controversy over a massive tidal flat reclamation project along South Korea's southwestern coastline took a new twist Friday, when a Seoul court ordered the government to reconsider the purpose of the development.

Ruling partly in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of 3,539 environmental activists and residents of the area, the Seoul Administrative Court said, "The Saemangeum project is not lucrative, as the cost for maintaining water quality will continue to rise."

Dong-A Ilbo

Large-scale National Plans May Receive a Setback : FEBRUARY 04, 2005 22:56

Large-scale national projects which receive vast amounts of budget money are facing a deadlock one after another due to concerned parties' severe opposition and legal disputes.

Following the government's decision on February 3 to study what impact tunnel construction through Mt. Cheonseong for a bullet train would have on the environment, surrendering to Buddhist nun Jiyul's hunger strike, it ended up revising its Saemangeum reclamation project under a court order.

In regard to this, some critics are blaming the government's rushed way of conducting projects, while others are raising concerns that the irrational resolution of the incident amid opposition from concerned parties and conflicting interests has left a bad precedent for future national projects.

The Third Administration Department at the Seoul Administration Court (presiding judge: Kang Young-ho) on February 4 effectively held the hands of the plaintiffs by ruling, “The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry should retract its rejection to the plaintiffs' demand for the cancellation of or changes in the Saemangeum project, as its rejection violates the public surface reclamation law,” in the petition some North Jeolla province residents and environmental protection groups filed against the Agriculture and Forestry minister demanding cancellation of the plan.

The court said, “Cancellation of or change in the government's license for common surface reclamation and project conduction is direly needed now that the original purpose of the Saemangeum reclamation or that of the project per se has changed, thereby posing a significant risk to the public in environmental, conditional, and economic terms.”

It notably ruled, “It is hard to recognize that the project will bring huge economic benefits, since the government intends to destroy tideland and create farmland in its place, at a time like this when this nation has a problem with the oversupply of rice.”

The court, however, fell short of recommending the immediate halt of the ongoing tide embankment reinforcement work (which is designed to prevent existing embankments from being swamped in seawater.)

The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry responded, “The court did not deny our project itself, though it issued a ruling that the project be ‘changed' or ‘cancelled,'” adding, “We will decide early next week whether to appeal or not through meetings with related ministries.”

In case the ministry appeals, the plaintiffs have decided to apply for a provisional injunction of suspension of effect regarding its reclamation license and project conduction. The project is almost certain to float for a long period of time as the present plan needs an overall alteration if the government accepts the court's ruling. Even if it appeals, it will take quite a long time before the court issues a final ruling.

Nevertheless, the court turned down or dismissed the plaintiffs' petition for cancellation of the government's plan surrounding the Saemangeum project as ineligible for administrative litigation.

Dong-A Ilbo

Public Sentiment Divided Over Reclamation Project: FEBRUARY 04, 2005 22:59

On February 4, when a judicial committee made a decision on the Saemangeum reclamation project, residents of Gyehwado, Buan-gun, Jeonbuk, who demanded the “discontinuance of the project to protect the fishing grounds” and Christian association members in favor of it were fighting vigorously in front of the administrative court in Seocho-gu, Seoul. (Story complete with ugly pictures of groups fighting over fishing rights versus “development” money)

Dong-A Ilbo

The Future of the Saemangeum Land Reclamation Project: FEBRUARY 04, 2005

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.

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.

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.

Dong-A Ilbo

[Editorial] State Projects Crumbling on the Brink of Completion : FEBRUARY 04, 2005 22:59

Construction of the Korean Train Express (KTX) Cheonseong tunnel is yet again on the verge of suspension. This resembles last year, when construction was also suspended for nine months. Even if the environmental research results were to be announced in less than three months, there is no guarantee that environmental organizations would throw in the towel and construction would glide to completion.

Environmentally-influenced research should have been meticulously completed before construction began. It is madness to launch another environmental investigation at this point, when the rapid transit railway construction commenced in 1992 with a total of 13 trillion won poured into the making.

The KTX railway that expanded from Seoul to Daegu due to a snail-paced leg that stretches from Daegu to Busan, is suffering from operational losses. Taking in an average deficit of seven billion won daily, it is a sad fate to see a national enterprise crumbling in the hands of emotional environmental protests. The Korean clawed salamander that environmental organizations so harp on is not even an endangered species. If we do not drill a tunnel, roundabout routes will wreak even more environmental havoc.

Likewise, the Saemangeum business -

Plowing through 10 years of research that began in 1991, the Saemangeum project's budget dwarfed over two trillion won. The core of the Saemangeum construction is an embankment 290 meters in width and 18 meters in height that spans a total of 33 kilometers, with 92 percent of the intervals seeing production and 2.7 kilometers left.

At this point, the crux of the matter is that the Saemangeun be developed in an environmentally-friendly way, the function of it being advantageous to the national economy and Jeonbuk residents. Do we really need controversy over economics when the embankment is on the verge of completion after 14 years of construction?

The fact that the court's injunction decisions regarding construction suspension differed in its two hearings adds to the confusion. The panel concurred with the environmental organizations in the recent hearing, but allowed construction to resume. It is the government's green business transformation; a compromise. However, it is feared that environmentalists empowered by the win will strengthen their attack.

To stop a costly state project that has already been in the works for over a decade can only be called “extreme environmentalism.'” The minimization of environmental damage in both national undertakings and advocating sustainable development are the due assignments for the parties involved.

Chosun Ilbo

Saemangeum Latest Mega Project to Stall on Green Protests: Feb.4,2005

National mega projects are floundering on environmental protests and concerns over their viability. The second stage of Seoul-Pusan bullet train service has now been suspended the second time due to opposition from a hunger-striking Buddhist nun, and the massive Saemangeum reclamation project in the waters off Gunsan and Buan, North Jeolla Province now faces a halt with a mere 8 percent of construction remaining. Meanwhile, a nuclear waste dump is unlikely to get past the planning stage due to opposition from environmental groups and locals.

In a lawsuit brought by environmental groups calling for the suspension of the Saemangeum reclamation project, Seoul Administrative Court ruled Friday partially in favor of the plaintiffs by ordering the government to cancel or alter the project. As the decision is likely to go through several appeals, the project will likely drift for some time.

"Changes great enough to destroy the ecology and cancel the project have occurred," the court said in its ruling. "With the cost of improving the quality of water of the Mangyeong River valley continuing to rise, the Saemangeum project is no longer economically viable." It added that because the project was likely to stall due to the conflict, "this court previously advised for construction to be suspended and a joint task force formed to reconsider the project and come up with new plans." The bench said it was "unfortunate that the government did not accept our recommendations, and we still think the government should put their heads together and solve this issue in a rational fashion."

The Saemangeum project is a massive engineering operation that began in 1991 and was scheduled for completion in 2014 at a cost of W4.78 trillion(US4.66 billion). It now faces termination after W2.24 trillion has been spent on it.

The second stage of the Seoul-Busan bullet train (Daegu-Busan) will also face delays of more than a year, mainly due to opposition from environmentalists. The second stage, which began in 2002 with the goal of beginning service in 2008, has now seen tunnel construction through Yangsan's Mount Cheonseong and Busan's Mount Geumjeong suspended. The Mount Cheonseong tunnel had already been held up for more than a year, and with the government agreeing Thursday to the demand of Buddhist nun Ji-yul for a three-month environmental impact study, faces another suspension. The W2 trillion project has already resulted in social losses of roughly the same amount due to delays, the Korea Rail Network Authority said. SK and Hyundai construction companies stand to lose another W4-5 billion for every month construction is suspended, while 400 laborers who were to work on the project will lose their jobs. (

The Korea Times, Opinion Piece

Development vs. Environment: State Projects Should Find Balance: Feb-06-2005

The dates Feb. 3 and 4, 2005, will likely go down in the history of the local environmental movement. On Friday a district court ordered the government to either cancel or change the nation's biggest reclamation project to date. A day earlier, the government suspended the construction of Seoul-Pusan high-speed railway, yielding to 100 days of hunger strike by a Buddhist nun. The decisions, both citing environmental concerns, may be subject to debate but are the unmistakable signs of an end to the development-is-everything era.

It is regrettable that these large-scale state projects, which have cost trillions of won and taken more than a decade, are drifting along in their final stages. In retrospect, however, perhaps they should not have started as campaign pledges. Careful and thorough feasibility studies, such as on commercial viability, were put second to political calculations for winning votes. While officials did assess their environmental impact, research was cursory at best. Once launched, successive governments could not stop them for fear of a political backlash.

Environmentalists are calling for both the scrapping of the Saemangum Project for turning 40,100 hectares of mudflats into farmland and a freshwater lake and for an alternative route to a rail line to be put through a 13-km tunnel in the ecological treasure of Mt. Chonsong. They could be right, provided studies conclude that the preservation of these areas outweighs developmental benefits. So far, however, research on these issues has yielded conflicting results. The activists may well be right in the very long term, but the immediate costs and losses will be heavy.

In the case of Saemangum, almost all parties involved acknowledge the reclaimed land will not be for agricultural use but instead for an industry-leisure complex. So it is hard to understand why the court based its ruling on it being farmland. The government needs to come up with a new plan for the land and seek a social consensus. As for Mt. Chonsong, a three-month environmental survey is planned but the construction should continue as decided in a previous court ruling.

The need for environmental protection within sustainable development cannot be overemphasized. But extreme environmentalism unaccompanied by plausible alternatives can be as harmful to the society as blind development. In particular, attempts to overthrow a court decision by threatening one's own life should not be allowed regardless of whether the causes are justifiable or not, as social order and the legal system must be maintained. Developers and conservationists should always try to find a balance.

At issue is how this balance can be achieved. First, any decision on state projects should be based not on political but rather economic considerations. The government ought to hear the views of all related parties and interest groups, particularly neutral experts with no direct interest. To prepare for cases in which agreement cannot be reached, it also has to have some intermediary mechanism or agency composed of social leaders. These might be time-consuming and cumbersome, but would ultimately save time and effort later by avoiding hasty decisions.

Dong-A Ilbo

Legal Dispute Surrounding the Saemangum Project Likely to be Prolonged: Feb 06, 2005

The government has decided to appeal to the High Court, defying the ruling of the Seoul Administration Court that it should cancel or change its Saemangum reclamation project. Signs are that the legal dispute between the government and environmental protection groups surrounding the Saemangum project will get prolonged.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry noted on February 6 that it would appeal to the Seoul High Court, as it cannot accept the court's recommendation that it dispose of or change its reclamation license regarding the project.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Lee Myung-soo said on that morning in a press conference in the Gwacheon Government Complex, “It is hard to see there are grave reasons to cancel or change our reclamation license, though it is true that there are ongoing disputes over the main purpose of the Saemangum project.”

The ministry added that it sees no reason to change its original plan, now that the project's main purpose, which is the creation of farmland, has not changed, and water quality in the region is getting better gradually.

Deputy minister Lee explained, “We will formulate specific usage plans by collecting ideas from every field expert after national territory researchers issue the results of their study on the plans for reclaimed Saemangum land in June or July.”

In regard to this, the plaintiffs, including environmental protection groups, have agreed to apply to the High Court for a provisional injunction of suspension of effect regarding the government's plan, which the court of the first instance ruled should be cancelled or changed.

Independently of this action, the plaintiffs also intend to apply to the Seoul District Court for a provisional injunction consisting of a construction halt under the Civil Proceedings Act so that the government cannot start constructing tide embankments, which is scheduled for December 2005.

It is expected that it will take quite long for the court to try the original case and the two applications for provisional injunction due to the conflicting stances of the government and environmental groups. This is because it is hard to expect the court will conclude its trial of the original case soon, provided that the court of the first instance issued its ruling about three years after it started hearing the case.

The government began its Saemangum construction efforts back in 1991, and its plans included building a 33 kilometer-long tidal embankment off the coast from Gunsan to Buan, North Jeolla Province, to create 120 million pyeong of farmland and freshwater lakes, around 140 times larger than the Yeouido area (one pyeong is equivalent to 3.954 square yards.) Ninety two percent of the whole process is done presently, and only a 2.7 kilometer-long construction project along the bank is left.