Controversy over whether to construct a new airport in the southeastern region of the country has been revived.
As a matter of fact, the issue was resolved two years ago with the decision to expand an existing airport on the western end of Busan.
Then, Busan Mayor-elect Oh Geo-don raised the issue again in an interview with news media on Monday.
“Expanding Gimhae International Airport was a misguided political decision. The expansion must be stopped,” Oh said. “Constructing a new airport on Gadeokdo is the right thing to do.”
Constructing a new airport on the island adjacent to Busan was one of the key campaign promises in the June 13 local elections Oh won.
Oh, Ulsan Mayor-elect Song Cheol-ho and South Gyeongsang Province Governor-elect Kim Kyoung-soo agreed Tuesday to create a joint task force to construct a new airport to serve as a gateway to the region of North and South Gyeongsang provinces.
The three were elected as candidates of the ruling party.
Though they did not elaborate on the location, it is easy to guess the new airport site means Gadeokdo.
A plan to construct a new airport in the region was first discussed in 2006 by the Roh Moo-hyun government, which did not reach a conclusion amid conflicts over where it should be situated. President Lee Myung-bak pushed the plan as an election promise, only to scrap it in 2011 as competition to host the airport overheated. President Park Geun-hye also brought up the issue again and conflicts mounted over two candidate sites, Gadeokdo and Miryang. In 2016, the government crossed out both sites as “economically infeasible” and decided to expand Gimhae Airport instead.
Under the decision, a new runway and related facilities are being constructed at an expense of nearly 6 trillion won ($5.35 billion). They are to be up and running in 2026.
Amid this situation, the three raised the issue of Gadeokdo airport in their winning campaigns. Now they are pushing to revive the scrapped plan.
If the policy is flipped and a new airport is built on Gadeokdo, not only the three politicians but also the government will face a storm of backlash from residents in the region.
Signs of conflicts are already boiling.
Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin refuted Oh’s argument, saying it is unjustifiable for a local government head to seek to overturn an adopted national policy and revive a discarded option on an election pledge.
Daegu is working on the relocation of Daegu International Airport and adjacent military runways to a nearby site as part of the 2016 new airport decision. If a new airport is built on Gadeokdo, this project could be negatively affected.
Local news media have run articles dealing with the issue from the viewpoint of regional interests.
Oh cites limits on the expansion of Gimhae Airport and noise pollution. But these concerns were already assessed in the runup to the decision to expand the airport.
Before its announcement in 2016, the government exacted promises from five cities and provinces in the region to accept the decision without raising issue.
Now, the mayor-elects and governor-elect are seeking to reverse consensus even before taking office on July 1.
Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mee said she was not considering changing current airport locations. The ministry said in its report to the National Assembly in April, “Gimhae International Airport was picked as the optimal site (of a new airport). Related local governments accepted the decision and the government even took counsel from a foreign advisory group.”
To open Pandora’s box, there must be a convincing justification, but the rationale behind Oh’s claims seem less compelling.
Constructing a new airport is a long-term national project costing billions of dollars. Key state undertakings must be prudently reviewed and consistently implemented once they are determined. Trying to reverse a concluded issue will cause a waste of national resources.