by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 反坤輿事業廢棄物掩埋場自救會/Facebook

CLASHES BROKE OUT in Miaoli earlier this week over the Kunyu (坤輿) landfill, when local residents demonstrating the landfill’s construction were allegedly attacked by men that they allege were gangsters hired by the construction company. The clashes took place around 3 AM yesterday, in the early morning hours of Thursday. Eight were injured, consisting of five men and three women, including a student whose glasses were broken during the struggle. 

The men in black reportedly threw chairs and other objects at demonstrators, who included a number of politicians both pan-Green and pan-Blue. DPP legislators Hung Sun-han, DPP city councilor Chang Guang-Xuan, former NPP independent Miaoli city councilor Zeng Wen-xue, and former Miaoli county magistrate Liu Cheng-hung of the KMT were among those injured. They were sprayed with pepper spray in the clashes and Hung reportedly sustained minor injuries when hit by metal objects that the individuals in black threw at the theater. Hung and Zeng are politicians with backgrounds in social movement activism and entered politics in the wake of the 2014 Sunflower Movement. DPP legislator Tang Hui-jane, independent city councilor Chen Pin-an, and former DPP Toufen mayor Hsu Ting-chen were reportedly also present. 

Livestream of the protests. Film credit: 反坤輿事業廢棄物掩埋場自救會

Plans for the Kunyu landfill date back to March 2002, when plans were approved by the Miaoli county government for its construction. Plans were then amended in February and March 2005, with the decision that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not necessary for construction. The landfill would occupy ten pieces of land, comprising 1.7958 hectares. 

Pacific Ecology (坤輿科技), the operator of the landfill, applied for a landfill operation permit in April 2006, but this was rejected by the Miaoli county government in October 2011. The Miaoli county government required Pacific Ecology to change its business plan for the landfill operation, seeing as the landfill required use of roads outside of the landfill and did not conform to laws regulating agriculture. This was not the first time that the Miaoli county government raised issues with Pacific Ecology’s landfill development plans, seeing as in April 1995, the Miaoli government rejected licensing for waste processing that the company had applied for in March 1991. 

As the landfill saw little development for close to twenty years since 2000, development was suspected to involve bribery. However, another factor was protests from local residents, who feared how the landfill would affect their farms, or food and water safety. 

What precipitated the protests was that Pacific Ecology applied for a trial operations period for the landfill in April of this year, which the Miaoli county government approved last month. While Pacific Ecology had also applied for a trial operations period on December 21st, 2020, which was approved by the Miaoli county government ten days later, this was halted by local residents that applied for an injunction, given the lack of any EIA. 

After the trial operations period was approved for the Kunyu landfill, local residents organized to guard the site in shifts, so as to prevent the landfill from beginning to operate. Clashes broke out at 3 AM, then, when eight buses were dispatched by Pacific Technology with 400 individuals claimed to be security officers to the landfill site at 1 AM, clashing with 60 demonstrators. Particularly enraging of demonstrators was that Miaoli police reportedly stood by and allowed the attack to happen, though several hundred police officers had been mobilized regarding the protests. Nevertheless, police claim that they set up checkpoints and searched vehicles in order to ensure that suspicious individuals could not enter the landfill. 

Livestream of the protests. Film credit: 反坤輿事業廢棄物掩埋場自救會

The conflict came to a temporary resolution when the Taichung High Administrative Court ruled at 8 AM that morning that the landfill could not begin to operate, seeing as there had been no EIA. National Police Agency Director-General Huang Ming-chao, as well as the Miaoli County police, has vowed to ensure that such clashes do not again take place, particularly seeing a number of high-profile politicians across party lines were injured in the incident. Huang visited the site of the landfill around 12 PM. 

It has been more common for clashes to occur between local residents and police regarding cases of urban and rural evictions or demolitions that take place for the sake of infrastructure development, such as with the Daguan Community, or various residential evictions that took place in Kaohsiung. In the last few years, it has been relatively rarer for clashes to directly involve individuals accused of being gangsters hired by construction companies. However, there were a number of notable cases in which this took place during the Ma administration, including regarding the Shilin Wang family in Taipei, the Chang family pharmacy in Miaoli, or various military dependents’ villages.

Collusion between gangsters, construction companies, and local politicians, as driving the development of development projects, has been a longstanding issue in rural areas in Taiwan. In return for their aid, politicians and gangsters receive kickbacks from such projects. 

This can perhaps be seen with regard to the Kunyu landfill, though the situation is still unclear, and the issue was high-profile enough to attract nationally-known politicians. It is to be seen how the situation develops. 

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