Lee says Saemangeum tidal flat to change S. Korea's history
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, April 27 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday called the ongoing Saemangeum tidal flat reclamation project along South Korea's west coast a historic effort that has "changed the map" of the country as it seeks to leap into the ranks of the world's top economies.
"Saemangeum is the kernel and the gateway of South Korea's west coast industrial belt," Lee said at a ceremony marking the completion of two decades of tumultuous work to construct a 33.9 kilometer tide embankment.
The world's longest seawall, built at the cost of 2.9 trillion won (US$2.6 billion), is to create 40,100 hectares of developable land and fresh water lakes -- about five times bigger than Manhattan. The government plans to turn the area, located 280km south of Seoul, into a mammoth complex for high-tech industry, leisure and green business by 2020.
"Saemangeum is a strategic point linking the Eurasian continent and the Pacific economic zone," Lee said in his congratulatory speech, pointing out there are 51 cities, each populated by at least one million people, within a three-hour flight distance from the site.
"We are now standing at the scene of a grand structure that will open South Korea's future. I think the Saemangeum project is something that will change South Korea's history," said Lee, formerly CEO of construction firm.
He called the seawall, to be recorded formally in the Guinness Book as the longest on the planet, "the Great Wall on the sea."
"This great, unprecedented structure has changed the map of South Korea," he said, adding the seawall will become an "economic highway for South Korea to reach the world beyond Northeast Asia."
Lee defended the Saemangeum project against environmentalists' claim that it would eventually devastate the ecosystem.
"It is another effort by us for low-carbon and green growth, along with the four-rivers project," he said, referring to his controversial drive to clean the country's four major rivers.
Opposition parties allege that the project is a cover for Lee's grand canal project, a campaign pledge he later dropped in the face of a fierce backlash. Some environmental activists and religious leaders also contend it will lead to environmental ruin.
Lee's administration, however, embarked on the 22-trillion-won river project last year.
"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."
Around 21 trillion won is estimated to be needed for the first-phase development until 2020 and many question how the project will be financed, although the government has said half will come from private investment.
South Korea began the construction of the seawall in 1991 to secure arable land, but it was suspended repeatedly amid a lawsuit by civic groups against the government. In 2006, the Supreme Court gave a go-ahead to the construction by ruling in favor of the government.