|▲ Environmental groups have criticized Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong over the planned Ora Tourism Complex - Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
Environmentalists have joined forces to criticize the planned Ora Tourism Complex on protected land on the north side of Mt. Hallasan.
The 3.5 million square meter, 6.2-trillion won development is 40 percent larger in size and almost three times as costly as Jeju’s current mega-project at the Myths and History Theme Park in Seogwipo City.
Ora is financed by China-based JCC and, although yet to break ground, is scheduled to be finished by 2021.
The Jeju Participatory Environmental Network released a statement on June 23 stating that the development violates Governor Won Hee-ryong’s own environmental standards contained in the Jeju Future Vision.
“This development will cripple the Future Vision that was created to ensure a clean and harmonious island,” said the Network, adding that the governor was acting like an “imperialist” in pushing it through.
Although the project violates conservation guidelines for Jeju’s “Jungsangan” upland region, Governor Won stressed that it had to be continued as negotiations over the project date back 10 years.
“We cannot rescind the approval,” he said in a statement on June 21, adding that a complete restriction on development in the upland region was “excessive.”
In response, the Network cited the National Land Planning and Utilization Bill: “Construction projects can be canceled if the project does not meet the public interest,” said the Network.
Environmentalists are especially concerned as 260,000 square meters of the land is highly environmentally sensitive according to the province’s Total Environmental Resource System.
The project is at an altitude of 350-580m and there are also concerns around water supply and sewerage. Access to local groundwater is normally restricted for business and residential developments in the area.
On June 22, a joint statement was also released by Gotjawal People, Jeju Residents Autonomous Collective, and Jeju Federation of Environmental Movements in support of halting the project.
“If the Total Environmental Resource System from the Jeju Future Vision plan is applied to Ora Tourism Complex, then the project is actually not possible,” read the statement.
Catering mostly to Chinese tourists, the Ora Tourism Complex will include a 2,500-room, 7-star hotel, a 1,842-room condominium, 4,300-accommodation units, and extensive meeting and conference facilities.
Other facilities include a duty-free department store, luxury village, global department store, indoor theme park, a water park, an 18-hole golf course, foreigner-only casinos and more.
To placate fears of overdevelopment, Won claimed that Ora is the last land in Jeju where such a large-scale development is possible.
The Jeju Federation of Environmental Movements accused the governor of using such rhetoric to push through the project.
“Using this kind of deception, Won has turned the heat up on the project and tried to establish one more large-scale project within his term,” said a spokesperson.
Local development councils back Ora project
In a show of support for the Ora Tourism Complex, on June 27 the Development Councils of the villages of Ora and neighboring Odeung released a joint statement at the Jeju Provincial Office Building.
The councils said that local residents vowed to “positively cooperate” in the project if it shares its benefits with locals and protects the environment.
The councils stressed said that the project dates back to 1999 and JCC is now the sixth potential investor after years of no progress.
“The sixth investor [JCC] briefed villagers last December and residents spoke with one voice and agreed [to the development],” they said.
Speaking on behalf of villagers, the councils urged the investors to see locals as co-owners in the project and to minimize environmental damage.
“Locals must be assigned positions as construction supervisors and there must be conservation of the Hancheon and Yeolanjicheon rivers as well as groundwater,” the councils said.
The Jeju Weekly will be following the Ora Tourism Complex story as it develops.