SEOUL — HE’S A MAN WHO likes his running water.
While South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has officially dropped his plans for a nationwide canal he claimed would have revived the heartland, his government is continuing to push forward with similar schemes to resuscitate the economy. One is a major maintenance project intended to restore the banks of the country’s four largest rivers and bolster the sagging construction sector. Another is the expansion of an existing canal that would connect the Han River, which snakes through the heart of the capital, with the Yellow Sea.
Lee gained widespread popularity before becoming president as the mayor of Seoul for tearing up a massive arterial to make way for a park tracing Cheongye Stream, which had been buried underneath. But his latest projects have landed him on the blacklists of South Korea’s environmental groups. The Han-Yellow Sea expansion of the Kyeongin Canal has drawn the ire of a several in the area who lampoon the project as wasteful and unnecessary — not to mention ecologically disastrous.
Kwon Chang-sik, secretary general of the Joint Committee Against the Canal, recently told the Kyunghyang Sinmun that the Kyeongin Canal is full of standing water tainted by sewage. Were it to be connected to the Han River, oil and other runoff would flow into an estuary along the banks of the Han and destroy a habitat for seasonal birds. The economic benefits of the expanding the canal are nil, Kwon said. “Traveling the distance of the canal takes 30 minutes by car but would take 4 hours by boat.”