Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Hushan Conservation Measures Public Hearing This Saturday – Public Invited To “Participate”
The official Public Hearing on the Hushan Reservoir Ecological Conservation Measures will be held at 9am this Saturday (April 26, 2008) in Douliou (Touliu) Town Hall (38 Fuwen Road 府文路, Douliou City, Yunlin County, map in Chinese). This follows a preparatory hearing held last month where stakeholders met for a test run and to thrash out details such as the main focus of the discussion and the level of transparency and detail that was expected of the reservoir developer (the Central Region Water Resources Office (CRWRO)*) and Taiwan Endemic Species Research Insitute (TESRI ), the body commissioned to oversee and co-implement the Conservation Measures.
The official purpose of the meeting is to explain the current status of the Hushan Reservoir Ecological Conservation Measures, the design and implementation of which were one of the conditions upon which the project was approved. Environmental groups, experts, academics and local community representatives are free to attend, or “participate” as the public notice calls it, although public explanation meetings and hearings for EIAs in Taiwan usually allow only a very passive form of participation by the public, something better described as consultation of the public and the provision of an opportunity to comment, but not to directly influence decision-making.
Judith Petts, editor of the Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment, describes some of the major differences between consultation and participation in EIA:
“Participation is a process of engagement, where people are enlisted into the decision process to contribute to it… Participation requires that those initiating the process are open to the potential need for change and are prepared to work with different interests to develop plans or to amend or even drop existing proposals…Consultation refers to the process of asking for information and comments about proposals...[and] often focuses more on the need of an authority or developer to consult other bodies and named individuals than the broader public. It is the top-down strategy, where the proponent or authority remains firmly in control and, in the public context, is mainly concerned with passing on information. It is often a one-way process…” (Petts, 1999).
Members of the public and environmental groups who attended the preparatory meeting in March expressed concern at the omissions in both the original EIA for the dam project (such as the failure to consider ecological impacts upstream of the dam), the inadequacy and poor planning of the Conservation Measures, and the risk posed by the project to the ecosystems of the Hushan area, including You-cing Valley.
Some dam proponents responded to the latter with the argument that the question of whether or not to build the dam and flood the valley had already been addressed during the EIA process and that it was too late to discuss the uniqueness and value of an intact You-cing Valley, and suggested that the hearing should focus on the Conservation Measures, which mainly involve capturing and translocating some plants and animals to a “restoration site” outside of the reservoir boundaries.
This debate over the focus of the up-coming meeting reflects the fact that project opponents feel that an inadequate and insufficiently participatory EIA for the Hushan Reservoir project left too many questions unanswered and allowed too little real participation in decision-making, leaving them no option but to continue to voice their concerns at this stage, with the project now already underway.
*-The Central Region Water Resources Office, Water Resources Agency, Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Petts, Judith. 1999. Public Participation and EIA. In: J. Petts (ed.) Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment (Vol. 1). Blackwell Science, pp. 145-177.