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Airport construction stirs environmental concerns


14:50, June 29, 2013

WUHAN, June 29 (Xinhua) -- An airport that is under construction in a primitive forest in central China's Hubei Province has provoked the ire of environmentalists, although others believe the airport will improve local living standards.

The Shennongjia Nature Reserve is home to more than 3,700 species of plants and at least 1,050 kinds of animals. At least 40 of its plant species and 70 of its animal species are under state protection.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Shennongjia to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 1990.

However, local media reports in the provincial capital of Wuhan indicate that the area's mountains and karst caves have been destroyed to make way for the airport. People are divided as to whether it is more important to boost the local economy or preserve the region's ecological environment.

Those responsible for building the airport said it is located in Hongping Township, 16 km away from the nature reserve. Construction began in April 2011 and the airport is expected to go into service in October.

Some critics believe the construction will almost certainly harm the nature reserve, voicing doubts as to whether the airport was properly approved by authorities.

"The project has been permitted by national and local forestry, land and resources and environmental departments after eight years of research and preparation. Compared with two other alternatives, the site of the airport has the best conditions and will result in minimal damage," said Zhong Xiuguo, head of the airport construction office.

Zhong admitted that some mountains and caves had to be destroyed to make way for the airport.

Tang Zhaozi, a senior engineer at the College of Life Science at Wuhan University who has been conducting research in Shennongjia since 1977, said any kind of exploitation will do harm to the local environment.

"But the airport won't bring too much harm to the animals there as long as they realize that the planes flying above won't hurt them," he said.

Supporters believe the airport will boost the local tourism industry and make the region more accessible in general. Highways are currently the only way to access the area.

"When a road connecting to the outside finally became available, people from Shennongjia were very happy," said local resident Wei Qun.

It is crucial for local residents to develop their tourism industry and improve their living standards, a fact which may not be understood by people from developed cities, Tang said.

"Shennongjia needs development, so the airport is necessary. But more specific research and policies need to be completed by relevant departments. The airport will not only meet the demands of tourists from home and abroad, but also aid in forest protection and disaster relief," said Zhou Yunqing, a professor at Wuhan University.

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