April 20, 2006

Massive South Korea sea wall finished after long battle

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean workers closed the last
remaining gap in a massive sea wall on Friday, completing a
map-altering reclamation project after 15 years of work and
bitter legal challenges by conservationists.

The project creates one of the biggest land reclamation
projects in history covering about 400 square km (155 square
miles) -- more than six times the size of Manhattan.

Conservationists and some residents have criticized the
project as a potential environmental disaster that will destroy
fishing assets, kill rare migratory birds and worsen the water
quality of the rivers that feed into the tidal flat.

The government says it is desperately needed to breathe
life into the declining region of Saemangeum, which refers to
the massive bay located on the west coast of the Korean

Good weather conditions allowed the work of plugging the
last remaining gap in the 33-km (20.5 mile) sea wall to finish
three days ahead of schedule, officials at the Korea Rural
Community and Agricultural Corp., which is supervising the
project, said.

"We were so busy we haven't had the chance to look back and
think about what this means," Kim Wan-joong, a director at the
state-run development corporation, said from the site by

The government has yet to finalize how to use the reclaimed
land and fresh-water lakes that will be created inside the sea
wall, but officials have said they envision there will be
farmland and parks that will spur development in the region.

The project was conceived when South Korea was having
trouble feeding its people after the 1950-53 Korean War and
wanted to increase agricultural production.

These days, farmers in the area are getting fewer in number
and up in years. Local farmers said there will be no one to
farm the land and the much of the land will be useless for
farming because it will likely be too saturated with salt from
sea water.

Conservationists said the project, by choking the tidal
flats and killing the shellfish and young fish that rare shore
birds feed on, will probably lead to the extinction of some
bird species.