Protesters besiege EPA to save Miaoli leopard cat

Review panel wants more details about protection plan

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Environmental Protection Administration asked for more details about the threat posed to the survival of the leopard cat by a road project in Miaoli County after Magistrate Liu Cheng-hung came under verbal attack from protesters Wednesday.
Over the past year, the Kuomintang politician has already faced widespread opposition over his demolition of homes to make way for a industrial park in Dapu and over his brother’s ownership of an alleged illegal villa expansion in Taipei’s Yangmingshan National Park. Earlier Wednesday, residents from Yuanli, also in Miaoli County, occupied the Ministry of Economic Affairs in protest against a wind turbine project.
The Taiwan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called for a “walk-by” protest near the EPA during an environmental impact assessment meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss threats to the survival of the endangered leopard cat in Sanyi, a popular tourist destination mostly known for its woodcarving industry.
The town faces the construction of a bypass road for Provincial Highway No.13, the expansion of a car factory owned by Yulon Motor Co. and the building of a cemetery and a park.
The SPCA fears the development projects will pose a severe threat to the survival of the small cat-like animal, of which less than 500 are reportedly left in Taiwan, 60 percent in Miaoli County.
At the end of Wednesday afternoon’s hearings, the panel decided to throw back the environmental impact assessment report while demanding more details from the Ministry of Transportation and the Miaoli County Government about how they were going to protect the leopard cat’s habitat.
Before entering the EPA meeting, Liu told reporters he supported the construction of the road, which had been first approved in 2009 to alleviate pressure on Sanyi’s main street during weekends. He said he wanted to reduce the impact on the environment to an absolute minimum, but his statements were met with shouts of protest from activists.
Critics on the EPA panel alleged that the new bypass would only serve traffic moving past Sanyi and would therefore do nothing to relieve pressure on the city center, where most visitors would be headed.
About 500 opponents of the development projects showed up, while a similar number of people demonstrated in favor, the Chinese-language media reported.
The existing road was only 10 meters wide and could not bear extra traffic, but in order to protect the leopard cats, the government would set up a 20-hectare area elsewhere as an animal reserve, Liu said. In addition, the road would be built as an overpass above the animals’ habitat and special environmental inspectors would be appointed to keep an eye on the leopard cats, according to the county chief.
Experts however said that each cat might need as much as 20 to 30 hectares as an area to roam in, making the complimentary site far too small. The area proposed by Liu would also be cut in two by a road, which leopard cats were highly unlikely to cross unless in extraordinary conditions, experts said.
The mayor of Sanyi supported the construction of the road, saying there had been hardly any reports about leopard cats being hit by cars, with most of the deaths the result of hunting.
The plan for a 24-ha cemetery park also threatened the animals’ habitat, while clashes erupted at the site last June when police tried to end an occupation of the terrain.
Yulon Motor had been producing cars in Sanyi for about four decades, but an expansion of its second plant near the city was motivated by the success and by export plans for its own Luxgen brand, reports said.
The company filed an application early this year for an environmental impact assessment about a 78-ha area, reports said. Yulon reportedly wants to double its local production from 120,000 cars per year to 240,000 in what has been described as the biggest expansion project in its 60-year history.