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Massive South Korea sea wall finished after long battle

By Staff
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SEOUL, Apr 21 (Reuters) South Korean workers closed the last remaining gap in a massive sea wall today, 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 -- more than six times the size of Manhattan.

Conservationists and some residents have criticised 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 peninsula.

Good weather conditions allowed the work of plugging the last remaining gap in the 33-km 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 telephone.

The government has yet to finalise 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.

REUTERS PR BD1005

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