On July 5, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled that the construction of the naval base in Gangjeong village, Seogwipo City, is legal. This gives the military government permission to continue construction of this controversial naval base.
The Court ruled that the past environmental impact assessment stipulates that “The environment evaluation and the negotiation with local residents over the construction issues should be done before the preliminary design approval.” The Court said that, “preliminary design approval should not be interpreted as the scheme of execution approval. For this reason, the argument of the plaintiff that the Gangjeong naval base is unlawful, since it has not undergone the mandatory process before the scheme of execution approval, cannot be accepted.”
The Court also overruled the argument that the provincial government’s shrinking of the absolute environment conservation area so that it no longer protects Gangjeong was illegal.
“The local administrative agency has its own discretion regarding whether to downsize the absolute conservation area. For that reason it does not need to undergo the process of hearing the advisory of the local residents.” The Court added, “There is benefit by sustaining the absolute conservation area, but that does not mean downsizing the area is in violation of the constitution.”
In conclusion the Court reaffirmed that “The insufficient environmental evaluation and negotiation process are not sufficient reasons to stop the Gangjeong naval base construction.”
However, among the 14 Justices, two (Jeon Soo Ahn and Lee Sang Hoon) opposed the ruling on the grounds that the approval of preliminary design should be interpreted as the preliminary design, and not “the scheme of execution.”
This whole controversy began in January, 2009, when the Ministry of National Defence approved the plan to construct a naval base in Gangjeong village.
In July, 2009, chief of staff of the Korean Navy submitted the environment evaluation proposal to Ministry of National Defence.
Later, Jeju Governor Kim Tae Hwan modified the original proposal, submitted back in 2009, downsizing the absolute conservation area so that Gangjeong no longer lies within its protection. In March, 2010, the Ministry of National Defense approved the modified proposal.
In response, Gangjeong village chief Kang Dong Kyun with 438 residents filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of National Defence stating that the process granting approval of the Gangjeong naval base was done without enough discussion between the residents of the village and the provincial government.
There were two trials prior to today’s Supreme Court ruling. Both ruled that, “The proposal that was passed on January 2009 is unlawful since it was done without the official environment evaluation and without negotiations with the Gangjeong residents. However, the proposal passed on March 2010 is lawful since it had gone through the environment evaluation and the negotiation with the local residents.”
The Supreme Court decision gave leeway to the Navy to continue construction of the naval base in Gangjeong village.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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