Double Trouble for Yunlin County and the Fairy Pitta

The Yunlin edition of the United Daily News (聯合報) has reported what it calls a "breakthrough" in the deadlock between conservationists and developers that has delayed the construction of the Hushan Dam in Yunlin County. According to the report, published Jan. 19, the Taiwan Forestry Bureau (林務局) agreed at a meeting on Jan. 17 to lift restrictions on the use of the land "conditionally" (analysis of other projects where the word "conditional" has been used indicate that this project has been given the green light). This was reported on the same day as the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) revealed that Formosa Plastics and Chinese Petroleum Corporation (previously rivaling contenders for land on Yunlin Offshore Business Park, which the Hushan reservoir is intended to supply) will both "have their wishes granted" (Commercial Times, 17 Jan 2005), effectively guaranteeing to meet an enormous future demand for water by these two notorious polluters. Formosa Plastics plans to build a steelworks, Chinese Petroleum Corporation a petrochemical science and technology park.

The plan to "free-up" this controversial area of Yunlin County, home to many endangered species such as the Fairy Pitta, is part of the "Hushan Reservoir Fairy Pitta Protection Alternative Measures" (湖山水庫八色鳥保護替代措施), a plan drawn up by Jhong Sing University and commissioned by the Central Water Resources Bureau. This plan has been met with great concern from environmental groups, who fear that crude surveys undertaken by the EPA have vastly underestimated bird populations and the overall biological and geological value of the land in its natural state, as well as the impact that the dam construction will have upon the local environment. In a public letter addressed to the director of Taiwan Forestry Bureau Mr. Yan Ren-De (顏仁德) in May 2004, Taiwan Academy of Ecology expressed concern that the report produced by Jhong Sing University showed little variation from previous Bureau reports, failing to address the doubts of Project Examination Committee members and indicating that the Forestry Bureau is responding to unequivocal instructions from the Central Government’s Council of Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) to assist the Central Water Resources Bureau in endorsing the Hushan Reservoir project.

Hardly surprising to those familiar with the government's code of conduct when engaging in 'consultation' on such issues, two of the major groups representing the plight of the Fairy Pitta were not informed that the Jan. 17 meeting was to take place. Neither Wild Bird Federation Taiwan (中華鳥會) nor the Yunlin Wild Bird Society (雲林鳥會) were on the invitation list, giving a clear advantage to those determined to see the plans approved. And why would they be invited when, by the sounds of the Commercial Times report, investment agreements with Formosa Plastics and Chinese Petroleum Corporation have already reached the 'fine-tuning' stages, suggesting that all those whose opinions carry any weight have already been consulted.