Scholars, activists worldwide opposed to construction of 2nd airport on Jeju

Posted on : 2019-12-19 18:05 KST Modified on : 2019-12-19 18:05 KST
Environment Ministry reviews environmental impact assessment for airport
A banner hung up by civic groups opposed to the construction of a second airport on Jeju Island at the airport’s proposed site
A banner hung up by civic groups opposed to the construction of a second airport on Jeju Island at the airport’s proposed site

While South Korea’s Ministry of Environment reviews a supplemental report for a strategic environmental impact assessment of the proposed site of a second airport on Jeju Island, leading scholars and activists from other countries have openly called for the airport project to be halted. Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae said that the government would ask for further adjustments if any inadequacies are found.

A group of Jeju residents that wants to stop the second airport project told the Hankyoreh on Dec. 18 that a total 0f 507 people had signed an international petition between Dec. 9 to 15. The petition was signed by highly regarded researchers and peace activists including Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at MIT and one of the US’ best-known progressive scholars; Gloria Steinem, an American feminist; Angie Zelter, a British peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012; Tim Shorrock, an independent journalist in the US; and Gavan McCormack, an Australian researcher on Okinawa.

The petition called for Seoul to scrap its plans to build a second airport on Jeju Island. Pointing out that Jeju is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, the petition argues that “the annual arrival of 15 million tourists already exceeds Jeju’s environmental capacity.” Building a second airport would double the number of tourists per year, the petition said, posing a threat to both Jeju’s ecosystems and the lives of its residents.

Concerns of airport being used as additional air force base
Site for 2nd Jeju airport and nearby habitats for migratory birds
Site for 2nd Jeju airport and nearby habitats for migratory birds

The petition added that the second airport, if built, would almost certainly host the South Korean Air Force’s Southern Search and Rescue Unit. Citing remarks that Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo made before the National Assembly last month, the petition argued that “the second airport would be used as an air force base” and that “the Jeju navy base is connected to these plans” while voicing “concern that the Jeju second airport project is being enforced in an undemocratic and unilateral way.”

The government is currently deliberating a strategic environmental impact assessment that seeks to nail down the location of the second airport. The report submitted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT), which is behind the project, is being reviewed by the Ministry of Environment, with the legal deadline for that review being Dec. 20. A nationwide campaign to thwart plans to build a second airport in Jeju that has been organized by the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement and other environmental groups released a statement on Wednesday, asking the Ministry of Environment to release the details of its deliberations over the strategic environmental impact assessment and to canvass the opinions of Jeju residents.

“Last month, the Jeju provincial assembly resolved to set up a special committee to deal with the conflict about a second airport and is taking steps to collect opinions from island residents and facilitate a public debate. The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport should consult residents’ opinions and halt all procedures while the provincial assembly’s special committee does its work,” the campaign said in its statement.

During its review of the supplemental report that MOLIT submitted on Dec. 3, the Ministry of Environment has adopted a cautious stance. “I think the decision-making process needs to involve a public debate by the island residents. With that in mind, we’re taking a very close look at the strategic environmental impact assessment report and reviewing all the issues that have been raised,” said Cho, the Minister of Environment, during a meeting with reporters on Dec. 17.

“If our review turns up shortcomings [in the supplemental report], we’ll ask for those to be addressed,” he added.

After MOLIT selected the Seongsan area of Seogwipo, Jeju, as a provisional site for the second airport in October, the Korea Environment Institute, under the Ministry of Environment, concluded that the site wasn’t suitable for a new airport. The institute cited the considerable risk of collisions between airplanes and birds at the site, which is an important migratory bird sanctuary, as well as its substantial value for natural and ecological conservation. “The public debate committee and the conflict mediation committee should first be used to reach an agreement with stakeholders about the selection of the site,” the institute said.

By Huh Ho-joon, Jeju correspondent, and Choi Ye-rin, staff reporter

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