Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

Saemangeum Land Reclamation Project November 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — yowch46 @ 3:11 am


When I read the case, called Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, from the textbook, that reminded me of another environmental controversy in South Korea regarding Saemangeum Land Reclamation Project.


What is Saemangeum Land Reclamation Project?

“Saemangeum land reclamation project uses a 20.5 mile sea dyke to reclaim an area of 155 sq miles, turning coastal tidelands that are key feeding areas for globally threatened birds into land for factories, golf courses and water treatment plants.”

“An official with the Saemangeum development authority project, said the reclamation was not about protecting the environment, but about economic development and they will do that in an environmentally sound way.”

Proponents argue that the $3 billion project will attract industry to the province which has been agricultural lands, but lacking of modern industry.

On the other hand, opponents argue that “the project has only stayed alive due to bureaucratic inertia and because it created construction jobs in the area that has provided the strongest political support.”

“The construction will replace natural wetlands with artificial ones and turn riverbeds into man-made lakes. They will build a park along the road on the sea dyke and try to attract tourists with a theme park, convention center and even perhaps a casino.”





Wildlife Starves on Emptied Wetland

Environmentalists argue that “tens of thousands of migrating birds are facing starvation because the world’s largest land reclamation project has all but destroyed their most important refueling station.”

“Saemangeum is the region’s most important refuelling post for around 400,000 migrating waders negotiating a 15,000-mile round trip between the southern hemisphere and south-east Asia, and breeding sites in Alaska and Russia. At the height of migration, over 150,000 waders from more than 25 species seek food at Saemangeum in a single day.”

“The spoon-billed sandpiper and Nordmann’s greenshank face extinction as their remaining populations rely on the tidal-flats of the Yellow Sea and on Saemangeum in particular. More than 100,000 great knot, a third of the world’s population, have been seen at Saemangeum in one day and these birds could be too poorly fed . . . to survive their final flight north. Internationally important numbers of 26 other bird species used the estuary before it was drained.”


spoon-billed sandpiper

Nordmann’s greenshank


“Spoon-billed sandpipers are just one of a number of birds threatened by the loss of the Saemangeum tidal-flats.”


It took 15 years for the seawall to be built because of legal challenges from local people, NGOs, and environmentalists.




Saemangeum Lawsuit

“Saemangeum case sued by local people and NGOs in 2001 had shown rise and fall during the legal proceedings appealed. The compromise suggestion proposed by the court lost the authority due to the refusal to accept it by the government. The Administrative Court ruled the partial winning for the plaintiff (local people and NGOs) on February 4, 2005, but the Higher Court dismissed the original decision and gave losing to the plaintiff on December 21, 2005. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded Saemangeum case to raise a hand of the defendant (the government) on March 16, 2006.”

“The legal debate for over 4 years had been a procedure comparing opinions and logical reason of both sides. Many experts testified to examine the ecology, the culture and water quality of Saemangeum with great care.”




By the way, Saemangeum seawall is the longest seawall-dyke (20.5 miles) in the world (certified by Guinness World Records in 2010). The seawall was officially open to the public on April 27, 2010.

At an opening ceremony, incumbent president Lee, Myung-Bak has commented that Saemangeum would be “. . . the kernel and the gateway of South Korea’s west coast industrial belt,” and is “another effort by us for low-carbon and green growth, along with the four-river project.”

“If the four-river project is to revive dying rivers, the Saemangeum project is to construct a comprehensive and planned green city for the first time in South Korea,” Lee said. “But today’s completion of the seawall construction is not an end to the Saemangeum project we dream of. We have lots more things to do. In a sense, the real beginning is now.”




I was surprised that the president commented at the opening ceremony that the seawall and the four-river project are efforts for low-carbon and green growth.These projects might create jobs and boost the economy a little, but, I cannot see they are environmentally friendly.

President Lee was a former CEO of a Hyundai Engineering & Construction company. What a coincidence that he is a supporter of these two major projects which require lots of constructions. I am afraid that these kinds of projects will be continued as long as economy is more weighted than environment.



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