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(LEAD) Gov't disapproves Mount Seorak cable car project

Politics 17:46 September 16, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with reactions in last four paras; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) -- The Ministry of Environment said Monday it has decided not to permit a new cable car project on Mount Seorak, one of the nation's most scenic mountains, ending a years-long debate on the project's possible damage to the environment.

The Wonju Regional Environmental Office, under the ministry, announced a decision to disapprove the proposal to build an extensive cable car system in the southern area of Mount Seorak in the eastern coast town of Yangyang, about 215 kilometers east of Seoul, citing its harm to the environment.

The controversial project, proposed by the county of Yangyang in 1995 to vitalize the local economy, calls for building a 3.5-kilometer-long cable car system between the Osaek area of Mount Seorak and the 1,480-meter-high Kkeutcheong Peak. But the project met strong opposition from environmental activists and groups who claim it would harm the environment and endangered species in the region.

Environmental activists opposed to the Mount Seorak cable car project hold a rally in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Sept. 2, 2019. (Yonhap)

Environmental activists opposed to the Mount Seorak cable car project hold a rally in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Sept. 2, 2019. (Yonhap)

"The government has carried out an environmental effects evaluation in connection with the possible construction of a cable car system in Mount Seorak's Osaek area to look into its impact on the natural environment, ecological landscape and biodiversity. It has finally decided not to permit the project due to fears of negative environmental impact," the Wonju environmental office said, adding it had notified Yangyang County of the decision.

At present, Mount Seorak has a small-scale cable car system linking the entrance of Mount Seorak National Park to the 700-meter-high peak of Gwongeumseong in Sokcho, another eastern coast town in Gangwon Province.

Following a protracted confrontation between the local government and environmentalists, an environment ministry committee gave conditional approval to the new cable car project in the Osaek area in late 2015. In November 2016, the Wonju Regional Environmental Office asked Yangyang County to complement its environmental impact statement, particularly regarding its efforts to protect endangered wildlife. The county submitted its revised environmental impact statement on May 16 this year.

But the environment ministry has finalized its decision not to allow the cable car project, due to negative opinions by experts and expert organizations. According to the Wonju environmental office, four of 12 outside experts opposed the project, while another four evaluated the county's revised environmental statement as insufficient. The remaining four gave conditional approval to the project, the office noted.

The Korean Environment Institute, the National Institute of Ecology and other professional organizations have also expressed concern about negative impact on endangered species, damage to vegetation of high conservation value and terrain changes in key areas of the so-called Baekdudaegan, a mountain range running through most of the length of the Korean Peninsula, the office said.

Yangyang County governor Kim Jin-ha speaks in a news conference at his office in Yangyang, Gangwon Province, on Sept. 16, 2019, to denounce the environment ministry's decision to disapprove the Mount Seorak cable car project. (Yonhap)

Yangyang County governor Kim Jin-ha speaks in a news conference at his office in Yangyang, Gangwon Province, on Sept. 16, 2019, to denounce the environment ministry's decision to disapprove the Mount Seorak cable car project. (Yonhap)

Environmental activists welcomed the ministry's decision, but Yangyang County's government and supporters of the cable car project expressed disappointment.

Kim Jin-ha, governor of Yangyang County, said after presiding over a meeting of county officials that he will mobilize all possible means and measures to counter the environment ministry's decision.

"The legitimacy of the Mount Seorak cable car project has been recognized to some degree by various administrative and judicial decisions in the past, including the environment ministry's conditional approval in 2015. Today's decision by the environment ministry is an illicit and self-contradictory move. It's also an abuse of power," Kim told reporters.

Separately, the Yangyang County government issued a statement urging the environment ministry to reverse its decision and threatening to seek criminal punishment for the chief of the Wonju environmental office.

ycm@yna.co.kr
(END)

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