Korean Catholics fight island's airport plan

US$4 billion project for a second airport in the environmentally sensitive area 'lacks transparency and shows poor judgment'
Korean Catholics fight island's airport plan

Sister Gemma Lee, reads out the Cheju Diocesan Ecological Environment Committee statement opposing the airport project on Jeju Island during a public Mass on Oct. 24 in Seoul. (Photo: Catholic Times, Korea)

Church people in South Korea have joined hundreds of organizations to fight a planned second airport on ecologically sensitive Jeju Island.

Local people, rights groups and environmentalists fear that massive construction planned for the airport will destroy the island's natural environment and adversely affect poor villagers.

The island already houses Jeju International Airport, one of the busiest in the word and used by an average of 26 million people annually. Its limited capacity forced authorities to plan a second airport on the southern part of the island with an investment of some US$4 billion.

"The site for the new airport is wrongly selected, and the second airport will bring in excessive tourists who will lead to a drastic increase in real estate prices and eventually destroy the environment," said a member of Cheju Diocesan Ecological Environment Committee.

Cheju ((former name of Jeju) Diocese is among more than 100 groups fighting the project on grounds that it lacks transparency and a scientific evaluation of its impact on the environment.

More than 150 Catholics led by Father Hoo Chan-ran, chairman of the Jeju Ecological Committee, met at Sejong-ro Park in Seoul on Oct. 24. They urged the government to suspend plans for the airport.

A 33-year-old Jeju resident, Noh Min-Kyu, has been on an indefinite fast since Oct. 18 trying to attract people's attention to the issue.

He claimed government authorities did not faithfully explore the island's underground caverns, caves and land conditions. They also failed to consider the impact of the noise pollution the project will have on people and migratory birds on the island, he said.

"Min-kyu has been fasting indefinitely in Sejong City, stressing the importance of life. We should all join the effort to publicize the ecological impact of the airport on Jeju Island," Father Chan-ran told protesters at a Mass.

Fierce civic protests

A statement read out at the Mass said the so-called development project would harm the environment and render local people poor.

The plan is to build the airport on more than 5.4 million square meters of land, with a terminal covering 167,000 cubic meters. It will have 44 apron stops, a main runway 3,200 meters long and 380 meters wide, and six side runways.

The government aimed to launch the project in the first half of 2019 but it met fierce civic protests and has been delayed.

An alliance of 111 civic groups and 39 environmental groups across South Korea — called Kang Won-Do or the vigilant citizens' association — demanded on Oct. 16 that President Moon Jae-in disapprove the plan being pushed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Catholic protesters told ucanews that the planned project would affect five villages on the island, treasured for its unique geological and ecological traits. It is also a former volcanic site.

When it becomes a center of investment for blue-chip companies, poor villagers will have to move out or suffer the consequences, they said.
 
The alliance said the ministry has been "hurrying" the plan. Its report on potential environmental hazards to the Ministry of Environment was not comprehensive. It also ignored experts' view that the airport is unnecessary and will harm the island's environment, the alliance said.

The plan, prepared since 2014, lacks transparency due to the land ministry's information manipulation and obscuring of facts, according to the alliance.

Protesters said the ministry has been hiding the research results by France's ADP Ingenierie, which studied the plan's necessity.

They say the existing Jeju International Airport can cater to the rising number of passengers if it is revamped with improved facilities and runways.

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