Friday, May 27, 2011

Songshan update: Taipei Dome gets the go-ahead

February 2009:- protestor in the in the last of nearly 700 old camphor trees, which are native to Taiwan, that were removed for a development project of which the legality was still before the courts and of which the environmental impact and zoning procedures were not yet complete.

In 2009 Stop Hushan Dam blog carried several posts on the clearing of the old Songshan Tobacco factory site in Xinyi before Environmental Impact Assessment had passed. The developer was given police protection to clear the site under highly dubious legality to put it mildly. More than two years on and the project only received the go-ahead yesterday by a city council-loaded EIA review committee in what can only be described as a mockery of the environmental impact assessment process. Songshan remains a continuing example of an environmental protection administration going all out to promote the interests of the developer at the expense of the environment and the local people. So much for all the political double speak on the need to "green" Taipei.

Yesterday Taipei City’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee gave conditional approval to the controversial Taipei Dome construction project paving the way for the construction of the 500,000m2 commercial complex in the Xinyi District. The EIA Review Committee approved the project by a vote of eight to five. With city officials accounting for seven of the 13 committee members the pro developer outcome was hardly surprising. Taiwan Green Party spokesman Pan Han-shen accused the city government of hijacking the review process.

The Songshan Tobacco Factory was established under Japanese colonial rule in the 1930s. The area has remained an open green area supporting wildlife in the heart of Taipei for many years. After the factory was closed in 1998 the area was further able to revert back to its natural state and become covered in thick vegetation and has become a vitally important oasis for wildlife within Taipei providing critically important habitat for several rare species. In 2006, the Taipei City Government signed a contract with the Farglory Group to build a 429,000m² cultural and sports dome complex costing around US$695.9 million on the site. Environmentalists and local residents oppose the project.

Taipei Times:- Green Party Taiwan halts tree removal at site of old Songshan Tobacco Factory

Update: Disregard for the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees

Update: It's gone ! Total disregard of the legal process - The last of the great Songshan camphor trees has gone !

More on the Songshan Tree issue

Songshan: Before and After Photos

Songshan update: case against activists dismissed

Monday, May 23, 2011

Update on the Fairy Pitta

A Huben Fairy Pitta:- photo courtesy of Richard Yu.

An unseasonable dry spell from March to mid May seems to be one of the prime suspects for the cause of a very poor general spring migration. The Fairy Pitta followed this trend and the first arrivals were recorded in late April rather than mid April. The bulk of the pitta arriving in the Huben-Hushan area appeared to arrive during the period 5th - 8th May.

It is still too early to hazard any guesses on a decrease or increase in numbers for this season. Fairly heavy seasonal rains have been experienced since mid May but it appears that these rains haven't resulted in flooding which could threaten nesting pitta. Though not likely to make landfall on Taiwan; severe tropical storm Songda should pass to the east of Taiwan bringing heavy rains to the island later this week.

Researchers from the Taiwan Endemic Research Institute will be monitoring and conducting research on the breeding Fairy Pitta once again this season. The construction Hushan Dam continues and regrettably independent access to the site to observe and monitor impacts is restricted so the actual situation on the ground remains very much a mystery. We can only hope the mitigation measures are being implemented and monitored. We will continue to provide updates on the Fairy Pitta during this season as we learn things.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink"

Hushan's Yucing valley before it was dug out to make way for the highly controversial Hushan Dam.

"Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink" said Coleridge in 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere.' With the recent day spell we've been having in Taiwan; and is always the case when we experience one; talk of the need for new reservoirs comes to the fore in the media. "Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink" becomes the cry.

Typically the argument goes that Taiwan doesn't have sufficient reservoirs for its needs and there are volumes of wasted water pointlessly flowing down rivers from the mountains into the ocean. All that is needed is to build more dams and solve the problem.

Fresh water flowing into the sea is seen as wasteful and no thought is given to its critical role in maintaining vitally important estuarine ecosystems. The dust problem on the lower reaches of the Jhoushui River is conveniently forgotten. This dust-bowl situation in Changhua and Yunlin Counties has been created by the damming of the Jhoushui River in its middle course leaving the wide floodplain of the lower reaches dry and dusty with little water at the mercy of fierce coastal winds.

The dusty desolate lower reaches of the Jhoushui River on the border of Changhua and Yunlin Counties. This dust-bowl situation on the river's wide floodplain is attributed to reduced volumes of water in the river's lower course due to damming in its the middle course.

The cost to the natural environment in the damming of rivers is massive and irreversible. A prime example is the tremendous damage to the Huben-Hushan area with the current construction of the Hushan Reservoir project. This project poses a direct threat to the future survival of Red-Listed animals and plants such as the Fairy Pitta, Taiwan pink dolphin and Begonia ravenii. In addition, the risk the dam poses to people living nearby has largely been pushed aside but after the recent Japanese quake and tsunami should we not take a renewed look at the wisdom of constructing a dam in a very unstable area near the Jiji fault; the epicenter of the huge September 1999 earthquake.

The Huben-Hushan forest being cleared for the Hushan Dam project. The area is listed internationally as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it is globally the most important breeding area for the IUCN Red-Listed Fairy Pitta.

An interesting letter appeared in the Taipei Times on Tuesday by Lee Ken-cheng, director of Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan urging a closer look at the benefits of addressing the problem water leakage on existing reservoirs to increase reservoir effectiveness rather than building new reservoirs.

See New take on how to meet water needs is necessary in Tuesday's Taipei Times.