The Revised Biotechnology Park Deserves Affirmation
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 6, 2010
Last week the Academia Sinica submitted a revised plan for converting a portion of the Number 202 Munitions Plant into a biotech park. The media gave the modified plan widespread coverage. Compared to the original plan, the Academia Sinica's revised plan is much improved. The area to be developed has been significantly reduced, from 9.6 hectares to 4 hectares. The number of buildings has also been reduced. Several hectares of grassland will be restored to wetlands. But no matter how hard the Academia Sinica tries, it cannot mollify the environmentalists. If anything, their rhetoric is more extreme than before.
On Taiwan, champions of economic development and champions of environmental conservation have virtually no room for dialogue, no area of overlap. This is deeply troubling. Consider technology development projects proposed by the Academia Sinica for example. Chang Hsiao-feng subjected the Academia Sineca to intense criticism. It is our understanding that the Academia Sineca, in response, formed a committee consisting of a dozen or so conservation, wildlife, and plant experts. They spent considerable time discussing how to strike a balance between biotechnology development and environmental protection. After several months of study, the Academia Sineca presented its revised plan. But a handful of environmentalists summarily rejected it, with virtually no discussion. Their "no concessions whatsoever" attitude shrinks the room for dialogue. Worse, it frustrates the earnest efforts of those determined to make environmental improvements in the technology industry. The lesson of the Number 202 Munitions Plant seems to be that no matter how hard the Academia Sinica might try, its efforts will be for naught. That being the case, why bother to compromise with the conservationists at all? Perhaps in the future everyone will adopt more uncompromising positions in the beginning, on the premise that it would allow more room for negotiation later on.
Actually, the facts behind the Nankang Number 202 Munitions Plant case remain little understood by many members of the public. Most regrettably, some people neither understand, nor have any desire to understand. They merely want to dig in their heels, and vent their spleen. They allege that the project would encroach upon wetlands. A quick glance at the Academia Sinica's regional development plans for the Lien Ching Munitions Plant shows that this is a misunderstanding. The picturesque ponds on the Number 202 Munitions Plant site are situated to the west. The Academia Sinica intends to develop the area to the northeast, several kilometers from the two ponds. Many members of the public have looked at the photos of the ponds published in the media, and mistakenly assumed that the Academia Sineca intends to develop those areas. This is a case of mistaken identity.
Secondly, during a press conference the Academia Sinica made clear that not only has the total floor area been reduced, more importantly, most new contruction would be located in areas that already have concrete buildings on them. These abandoned factories are no longer being used by the Number 202 Munitions Plant. These concrete structures are already there. It makes no difference whether the Academia Sinica moves into them or not. Wetlands are not about to spring miraculously out of concrete structures. That being the case, why is it alright to use the site for a munitions plant, for the manufacture of explosive devices? Why is it not alright to use the site for a biotechnology research laboratory?
Thirdly, let us compare the two plans before and after the Academia Sinica became involved. One of the biggest differences is that the Academia Sinica decided not to build on land that "100 years ago might have been wetlands." This substantially reduced the volume of the buildings and the area they could be bulit upon. Not only that, the new plan recovers wetlands. Grasslands already filled in and underground excavations such as water storage facilities and drainage systems will be restored to wetlands. This is tantamount to creating a giant wetland, to increasing the size of Taipei's "lungs," to increasing Taipei's breathing capacity. These changes are direct responses to concerns environmentalists originally expressed about the wetland conservation. Who knew that after increasing the amount of wetlands, that after increasing the lung capacity of the city, this lung would suddenly be depicted as another portion of the human anatomy, and that the Academia Sinica would be treated like a sex offender? How can anyone reach a rational accomodation, given the environmentalists' irrational attitude?
Some people want the proposed biotechnology parks moved to Linkou. These laymen fail to understand the nature of the biotechnology industry. The number of successful biotech industry parks around the world can be counted on one hand. The common denominator is "clustering." The incubation center and science research units must be adjacent to each other. Even the associated financial services must be located nearby, to provide support. If one were to stuff the biotechnology park in Linkou, not only would the Academia Sinica be uninterested, not a single biotech incubation center would move in. The site would end up as yet another vast "mosquito park." It one sacrifices technological development for environmental protection, so be it. But if one creates yet another building complex that serves no purpose, other than to breed mosquitoes, then that is an unforgiveable sin.
On the whole, we feel the revised plans for the Academia Sinica Biotechnology Research Park deserve praise. Rational environmentalists should offer their views, expectations, and any recommended course corrections for the plan. They must not adopt an uncompromising posture, as if they were the supreme arbiters. After all, if the Academia Sinica does not use the 25 hectares, the Defense Department will continue using them. If one refuses to allow the construction of laboratory buildings, then one is retaining them for use as a munitions plant. Just exactly how does one wish to use the Number 202 Munitions Plant site? The public on Taiwan must think clearly about the choice between conservation and development.