▲ Chinese company JCC plans to target mostly Chinese tourists with this sprawling complex for 60,000 Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
Environmentalists are urging Jeju province to suspend work on the Ora Tourism Complex as they say it violates conservation guidelines promulgated by Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong.
Hong Young-Cheol, representative of Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self-Government and Environmental Preservation, told The Weekly that the Ora project site, in Jeju’s sensitive Jungsangan mid-mountain region, is crucial for groundwater supply and is protected under the province’s Total Environmental Resources Plan conservation guidelines.
“Ninety percent of this region is legally a conservation zone. To preserve [the site] as a first-class water conservation zone, the development is not permissible,” he said.
The 6.3 trillion won project, Jeju’s largest ever, is being funded by Chinese (but British Virgin Island-registered) JCC. When finished in 2021, the 3.6-million-square-meter development will support 10,000 residents and a transient population of 50,000.
Catering mostly to Chinese tourists, the complex will include a 2,500-room, 7-star hotel, a 1,842-room condominium, 4,300-accommodation units, conference facilities, a shopping mall, indoor theme park, a water park, an 18-hole golf course, foreigner-only casinos and more.
The sprawling site borders Hallasan National Park and is currently undeveloped. Hong says that in addition to the loss of grassland and woodland, the development will massively increase water usage and sewage discharge, as well as add to traffic congestion. He also fears lasting damage to Jeju’s reputation.
“If they construct a large casino then Jeju’s image will deteriorate as a gambling industry island and I am worried about an increase in crime related to gambling. There is a high possibility it will damage Jeju’s future value and not create high-quality jobs,” he said.
Despite Hong’s concerns, he acknowledges that many Odeung-dong and Ora-dong villagers support the development which dates back 18 years after being postponed following the IMF crisis in 1997.
At a briefing session on Dec. 17 with the developer, JCC, locals said uncertainty around the project had hindered development in the villages, and conservationists should not be allowed to further delay the project.
“We need balanced development between villages,” said one resident. Lee Jong-ok, the former head of a local horse ranchers association, also said, “JCC stated it will develop in an environmentally-friendly manner and, as local residents, we approved.”
JCC has stressed the green credentials of the project and promised to ensure the complex has “zero wastewater discharge.” In partnership with Samsung Electric, JCC also claims the complex will be the first large-scale deployment of the conglomerate’s smart energy-saving technologies.
Hong remains skeptical, particularly as environmental groups were blocked from the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment, which is due to be completed in the new year.
“Developers do not keep their promises,” he said.
Hong says that opposition to the project is increasing in local villages and across the island.
A number of civil society groups including Gotjawal People, the Jeju Residents Autonomous Collective, and the Jeju Federation of Environmental Movements, announced in June that the project violated environmental law and would damage Jeju as a “clean and harmonious island.”
The former chair of Jeju’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Professor Lee Hyoyeon, went further: “Ora Tourism Complex is the ridge of Hallasan’s nose. If it is developed as proposed, it will put a hole in the face of Hallasan,” he said.
Even developers have spoken out against the project. In an editorial for the Halla Ilbo on Dec. 26, Lee Si-bok, president of the Association of Construction Organizations, shared his concerns not only about the Jeju environment but also the offshore movement of profits and the lack of quality jobs produced.
The Jeju Civil Society Organization Network submitted a petition with 2,800 signatures to the provincial office on Nov. 22 in an effort to make the province hold a public policy debate on the project.
Although the province initially considered the proposal, it announced on Dec. 6 that the national government had decided that the Ora Tourism Complex, as a privately-funded project, could not be the subject of a public forum.
Opponents of the project are running out of options. The project passed a provincial landscape review in February 2016, and after the environmental impact assessment is complete next year, only the governor, already a staunch supporter, can stop JCC breaking ground.
Won recently reiterated his support for the Ora project in an interview with Yonhap, seeking to calm islanders fears by announcing plans to strengthen regulations on overseas investors. He is also on record stating, “We cannot rescind the approval.”
Hong disputes that claim, pointing to the Biyangdo cable car and China Beyond Hill resort as examples of projects that the province canceled after public opposition. For this reason, he fears that people connected with the project are pushing it through.
“There’s conjecture that influential figures who support the investors may be pushing the project through. I’m concerned that serious problems with the business process might be overlooked.
Most of the time, after receiving the planning permission, large developers [do not] implement projects that are mutually beneficial for villagers. Even if the current developer is not like that, most of the jobs created will be low-pay, day work,” he said.
Hong would like to see the site developed for biotechnologies, the health and healing industries, as well as agriculture and fisheries research.
“To ensure this, the Ora Tourism Complex should be designed with adequate capacity for the environment such as research institutes, clean production facilities, and recreational facilities,” he said.
A proposal for this has been submitted to the Jeju province, but Hong is not optimistic about their response.
In its preview for 2017, the Jeju Environmental Movement selected the “reckless” Ora development as the number one environmental issue facing the island. In a sign that the controversy is far from over, they wrote:
“After the province rejected the public policy debate and expressed its intention to push the project forward, we expect intense conflict ahead of the council’s environmental impact assessment next year.”
The Jeju Weekly will provide news on the Ora Tourism Complex as it becomes available.
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