By Bae Ji-sook
A controversial plan to restore the country's four major rivers kicked off Tuesday, and, as anticipated, the commencement was met with joy on one side and anger on the other.
President Lee Myung-bak's pet project has a price tag of 22 trillion won, and the governing camp says that it will be a milestone in bringing economic boons and environmental protection to the affected areas, while detractors say that the plan will end up devastating the ecosystem.
With fanfare, ground was broken simultaneously throughout the nation. An army of excavators moved a great deal of dirt in four reservoirs _ Dalseong, Gumi, Hapcheon reservoirs in Nakdong River in the eastern part of the peninsula, and Seungchon Reservoir in Yeongsan River in the western area.
Work will commence in 11 more areas Thursday.
Lee has repeatedly said the nation's biggest civil engineering project will ease expected water shortages and significantly enhance the water quality of more than 70 percent of the affected areas by 2012.
His administration also claims the project will generate 44 trillion won and 340,000 new jobs.
"The project will benefit South Gyeongsang Province, which has suffered from poor water quality due to drought and other environmental factors. Also, by establishing multi-leisure spaces along the river, everybody will share the benefit," South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Tae-ho said in a previous interview with The Korea Times.
"When the riverbanks are refurbished, farmers can plant aquatic plants there - they could bring us extra benefits," said a farmer in Paldang, Gyeonggi Province.
The start of construction came as the Ministry of Environment approved the environmental assessment of the plan, Sunday.
However, a group of professors held a press conference Monday denouncing the assessment result.
"It is impossible to look into all 634 kilometers of the site in four months. It is common sense that you need years to observe the impact according to seasonal changes and other factors," professor Choi Young-chan of Seoul National University said.
"We have found that some of the data are a carbon copy of a survey done five years ago."
The group, composed of more than 2,400 scholars nationwide, plans to hold a series of seminars and meetings to prove the government is wrong.
Branch offices of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement in Gwangju and South Jeolla Province are conducting a signature-collection drive for a class action to stop the project.
"Once the construction is completed, no one knows what devastation it will bring to the environment and its ecosystem," said Park Mi-kyung, a spokeswoman for the federation.