China's Dams

Power station plan at SW China scenic spot sparks controversy

November 14, 2006

Plans to build a hydropower station in a national scenic spot in southwest China have fired a debate on the precedence of economic development over natural conservation. A foundation-laying ceremony was held last month for the Zhaojiadu Hydropower Station near the Malinghe river canyon scenic site, at Xingyi City in Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in the rather underdeveloped province of Guizhou. The facility would produce 355 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, bringing revenues of more than 81 million yuan (10 million U.S. dollars), the prefecture government has predicted. But some local residents and officials have expressed deep concern over the project, fearing the dam would split the famous canyon into three parts and flood the most beautiful areas. “The canyon is a gift of nature and belongs to the world. It is not worth destroying a scenic spot for temporary profit,” said Peng Dianji, a political advisor to the prefecture government. The station would seriously damage local tourism, he warned. The provincial government has invested 56 million yuan (seven million U.S. dollars) in tourism facilities in the 450-sq-km Malinghe River Canyon Scenic Area. The area received 800,000 visitors so far this year and is expected to bring a total revenue of 300 million yuan (38 million U.S. dollars) for the year, said an official with the scenic area. “In the long run, tourism will bring far more benefits than a power plant,” the worker said, calling the power station plan “shortsighted”. Despite the controversy, the local government seems determined to build the station. The hydropower station has passed assessments in geological damage, water and soil conservation and environmental effects. “A comprehensive use plan for the Malinghe River was drawn up a long time ago,” said Chen Xianglin, an official with the autonomous prefecture. “A power station would bring direct economic benefit,” he said. “Tax revenue alone would be 14 million yuan (1.7 million U.S dollars) a year.” An artificial lake would form after the power station was completed, which would also be a visitor attraction, Chen argued. “Protection is important for a state-level scenic site, but the law does not preclude the comprehensive use of water resources,” said Zhang Dingshu, deputy head of the prefecture. Zhang admitted the project was yet to be officially approved by the Ministry of Construction, but preparatory work was underway.

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