▲ Opponents of the proposed Biyangdo cable car system fear it will not only mar the scenery of the island, as shown in a artist’s impression at right, but that it will have a significant impact on the surrounding enviornment. Photos by Gonn Gi Gab, above, courtesy JejuSori, right.
Anyone arriving on Jeju with a business mind can take one look at the island and see dollar signs and opportunity. Only a portion of the island’s beautiful beaches are lined with resorts, the remainder left unsullied to display their natural beauty.
Development company Raon Land has advanced many prom-ising ventures, including Raon Golf Resort, Raon Horseriding Club and Raon Mapark (horse-park) - all recent additions to the island’s tourism offerings. Online news portal JejuSori reported in November that Raon, in October, submitted a proposal to the Jeju provincial government for approval to proceed with plans to construct cable car systems. The constructed cars would connect Hyeopjae and Biyangdo, and there are talks of later routes on Halla Mountain as well. How-ever the focus of the proposal is on the western portion of the island at present.
In the first week of October, Raon held a public hearing to introduce the preliminary review of the projected environ-mental impact and discuss the concept with locals. JejuSori reported that the construction company claimed a cable car connection to Biyangdo would contribute to the local economy by creating jobs. Raon gave commitments that “the con-struction will be an environmentally friendly development and will strike a balance bet-ween environment and development by blending the cable cars in harmony with the beauty of Biyangdo.”
Raon reportedly announced its willingness to listen to criticism of the proposal and to cooperate with the diverse opinions of local residents. However, Kim Dong Joo of Korea Federation for Environmental Movement of Jeju said that Raon had yet to take a public opinion poll to determine the strength of those opinions. Raon declined an interview for this article, saying it was not making any public statements at this time. The earlier JejuSori report quoted a Raon representative as saying, “With the completion of five projects, we are pushing to include the cable car plan. The area will be not just be for a summertime vacation spot, but ideal as a sports and leisure destination where tourists can enjoy golf, horse-riding, yachting and other diverse leisure activities.”
Kim said Raon is failing to see how drastic the environmental impact of a cable car system will be on the tiny island of Biyangdo. Currently, he said, the island is home to approx-imately 100 residents and hosts even fewer visitors on a daily basis.
With the construction of the cable car system, Kim said more than 20 times that amount of visitors are anticipated, or about 600,000 visitors each year.
Kim said the island is simply too small to accom-modate so many people and that the proposed construction site would affect the local pine forest, lava tubes and coastal region significantly. There are also many rare plant species on the Biyang Oreum that he said would be endangered.
In January 2008, Olive Press, an English-language news-paper in Spain, reported that a proposed cable car construction between Granada and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Spain had been indefinitely shelved due to serious environmental threats. World Heritage group UNESCO backed regional government findings that the construction would pose significant threats to the area’s birdlife, specifically the imperial eagle and the peregrine falcon.
Nial Moores, director of Birds Korea, said, via an e-mail interview, “the Eastern imperial eagle is a rare migrant and winter visitor to Korea. It has been recorded on Jeju very rarely, depending on coastal wetlands in winter. What is worth focusing on is that globally threatened biodiversity (e.g. Fairy Pitta) needs to be considered in all development plans. Conservation of bio-diversity is a key element of the Millennium Development Goals. Any development that leads to a loss of biodiversity cannot be described as genuinely sus-tainable, according to the def-inition provided by the United Nations.”
The cable car construction will require four poles of 50 meters in height, two of which would be erected on land and two in the water.
Moores said establishing a cable car terminal in a remote and forested area would require road construction, vegetation clearing and transportation of construction materials, in addition to the actual construction. He also expressed concern about the effects of overpopulation on the island. “If the cable station is designed to move large numbers of people (necessary if it is to be econom-ically viable),” he wrote, “then the station(s) will also require toilets (requiring water etc), car parking and presumably restaurants etc, as well as artificial lighting. For infants and the elderly, there would be a need to construct safety barriers, improved signage and im-proved trail surface at the top as well as at the bottom of the cable.”
The construction would bring more than just tourists to the island, he said. “Disturbed areas with large numbers of people, restaurants and toilet areas while already noisy and unable to support most sensitive species, are instead very attractive to species like rats and also to the large-billed crow - an omnivore that will eat bird eggs, as is the magpie. There are multiple documented cases around the world of sensitive bird species showing declines due to the indirect impact of increased numbers of crows and magpies that have been attracted to and are concentrated around artificial food sources.”
Raon’s October proposal was submitted along with a required preliminary review on environmental impact. As a next step, Raon Land is set to submit its final review on the environ-mental impact on Biyangdo by the end of this year. JejuSori reported that once the proposal is approved, Raon Land plans to complete construction of the 1952-meterlong cable car system by May 2010. Currently, the Jeju provincial government is reviewing whether to approve the controversial proposal. The government also declined to discuss the project for this article.
Moores and others remain concerned about the impact such a system could have on Biyangdo, and Jeju in general. “Cable cars are usually designed and built to increase the number of people able to visit otherwise relatively inaccessible areas; the larger the number of people - the greater the disturbance to sensitive areas and species,” Moores said.
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