Saichia launch is indeed closed. For now.
The gates are locked and there are ‘trees’ all over the launch. The launch will stay closed until a government official has been satisfied that the land is in fact treed. This may be two weeks, and it may be two months.
‘Trees’ in this case are tiny saplings planted at 3m spacing, hardly a leaf on them, nothing but a clump of dirt around the roots sat in a hole in the ground, and nothing to support them beyond a couple of pebbles. It is also the beginning of our dry season which will go on until June or so. Obviously these ‘trees’ don’t stand much chance of becoming what you and I think of when that noun is used…
The story from the aboriginals (at least the young guys that fly, and are related to the land owners) is as follows:
Maolin National Scenic Area Administration (茂林國家風景區管理處), known hereafter as Maoguan (茂管), is doing everything it can to purchase the launch site in order to develop it into a sustainable tourist attraction. It’s long been an issue for Maoguan that whilst they are ultimately responsible for anything that happens within the boundaries of the Scenic Area, they have so far been powerless to intervene in operations at Saichia Flight Park because the land itself is privately held. Simply put, when there are accidents someone in government will call them to either find out what’s going on, or to do something about it. Maoguan is however powerless to do anything about it, which puts them in a bad situation.
Maoguan has been trying for some time to get a compulsory purchase order on the land itself for reasons of misuse of the land. Because the land is in a national forest preserve, there are many restrictions placed on how the land may be used. For example, trees may not be cut without permission, no-one may establish a business on the land, and entrance or clean-up fees may not be charged. The land may not be rented to others. As I wrote on Oct. 23rd, the land has been through many eras of control (or lack of) during which money has changed hands illegally. Maoguan is aware of this, but can’t prove any of it, and this is probably why their attempts at compulsory purchase have failed.
At the moment we have two competing interests, The Assassin on one hand, and Maoguan on the other. The Assassin would like for pilots to pay him for the upkeep of the launch, and to act as the go-between with the land owners.
Maoguan wants to buy the land in order to develop it into a permanent tourist attraction, who’s main feature will be us, the pilots.
Maoguan is going to try whatever means they can to prevent the land owners from collecting rent or entrance fees. In response the land owners have said they will open the land for use by pilots at no charge as long as the land is cared for. Maoguan’s response has been to approach the land owners again to try and purchase the land, but their last offer (NT$1m) was rejected as insufficient. It’s my understanding that the owners may offer to lease the land to Maoguan for a term of 20 or 30 years if they are willing to build, operate and then transfer the infrastructure they are planning to build up there. This may be the best solution for all involved.
The current impasse is centered around some change of ownership on the land. Apparently there is not one single owner, but five. For some reason they are transferring the title, I think amongst themselves. That cannot be done until the government has inspected the land to see that it’s in the same state as on the official map. This is why the structures had to be torn down some weeks ago. The kingpin in this whole affair is the local county chief (鄉長) who’s chop is needed for the transfer to take place. I’m speculationg that it may be that he is under pressure from Maoguan not to allow that. It may be that Maoguan will use this tactic to force the owners to accept their terms. Failing that of course the pilots are going to be out of a launch site.
My feeling right now is that Maoguan will accept that as an option. They would probably rather see the site closed than to have it continue in the current fashion where it creates nothing but problems for them. Given the amount of money that the visitors to Saichia bring along with them over the winter months I can only speculate that the phone calls they get after accidents occur must very unpleasant indeed.