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[Editorial] Listen to residents

Policy to dismantle weirs encounters overwhelming opposition from local city councils

Sejong City Council in South Chungcheong Province announced its unanimous official position that the government should postpone its decision on dismantling the Sejong Weir on the Geum River.

“More than 200 billion won ($169 million) of taxpayers’ money was used to build the weir,” Sejong City Council Chairman Seo Geum-taek said Monday. “The government must think carefully whether it is desirable to spend more to dismantle it.”

The council effectively opposed the dismantlement.

This position was taken reportedly after the council got consent from the leadership of the ruling Democratic Party.

Sejong Mayor Lee Choon-hee who belongs to the ruling party said in May that when it comes to the Sejong Weir, the government must not rush to dismantle it. He proposed it gather public opinion extensively before making a final decision.

Rep. Lee Hae-chan, the ruling party leader elected from the city, said last month that the government must consider the city’s position that more time is needed to consider the matter. He virtually demanded a deferral of the decision.

They made righteous remarks.

On Feb. 22, a joint government-civilian committee formed by the Environment Ministry to evaluate the Four Rivers Refurbishment Project picked three weirs on two rivers to be dismantled.

With Sejong City Council announcing its official position, however, the Moon Jae-in government has encountered strong opposition from all the three city councils whose jurisdictions include the weirs in question.

Gongju City Council in South Chungcheong Province unanimously adopted a resolution against dismantling the Gongju Weir, also on the Geum River on Feb. 26.

A survey by Gongju City Hall found 754 of 770 residents who responded to the poll opposed the removal of the Gongju Weir out of concerns about a shortage of water for agriculture and the financial burden.

Thirteen of the 15 Naju City councilors in South Jeolla Province also tabled a proposal against the removal of the Juksan Weir on the Yeongsan River in late June.

Now, environmental groups are the only remaining supporters for removing the weirs.

The decision to raze weirs must be taken carefully after side effects of the weirs, such as large increases of algae caused by the slower flow of water, are weighed against the benefits, such as securing water for agriculture or industries and flood control.

The matter will be discussed for a final decision by the State Water Management Committee to be launched this month.

If the government decides to tear down the weirs based on the committee’s recommendation, strong protests from local residents will be inevitable.

Considering the usefulness of a weir and economic burden of dismantlement, there seem to be few reasons to hold fast to the view that they must be removed immediately.

The Moon administration appears to be rushing to get rid of weirs in the same way it has pushed to phase out the nation’s nuclear energy. It turned a blind eye to the positive aspects of nuclear energy, while being fixated on environmental concerns. Likewise, it is focusing on limiting algae flare-ups without considering the benefits the weirs bring.

It has sought to eradicate the irregularities of past conservative governments as the top priority of its state affairs agenda.

The administration has given an impression that it seeks to dismantle the weirs from the perspective of Moon’s signature drive to eliminate past evils.

After auditing the river refurbishment project started and completed by the former President Lee Myung’s administration, it was decided to keep six weirs open at all times and dismantle three.

If the government wants to reduce algal blooms in the rivers and let them flow naturally, it would be wise to open the gates whenever the need arises.

As for demolishing the facilities, discretion is required. Weirs were built with taxpayers’ money, and more will have to be spent to remove them. If there is need to reconstruct the weirs again, the expenditure will not be small.

The main beneficiaries of weirs are local residents who need water. One cannot dogmatically decide on their dismantlement. The government must pay attention to the opinions of residents who will be directly affected.