Official sidelined for fining wetlands developer

CHINA: China Guodian Group last month escaped a CNY 5.59 million ($879,639) fine for building a wind farm in a protected wetland, with the official who imposed the penalty removed from his post. The utility's Hefeng Wind Power Development subsidiary was originally hit with the fine in June after a swan was killed flying into its Linghai wind farm in Liaoning province.

Linghai municipal forestry bureau, which issued the fine, said Guodian Hefeng had built the wind farm in the Linghekou (Linghe River estuary) wetland protection zone. The zone is home to 1,024 species of wild fauna and flora and 32 bird species under key national protection such as red-crowned and white cranes.

The forestry bureau planned to use money from the fine to restore the wetland, which it claimed had been damaged by the development of the wind farm.

Guodian Hefeng immediately objected to the fine, insisting it had abided by all relevant environmental regulations when it first started building the 74-turbine project in 2007. "We have passed strict examination and approval," said manager Chen Wannian. "There is no encroachment of wetland. So we will not pay any fine."

The fine was also opposed by Linghai's local government, with Linghai City vice-mayor Wang Yinchao claiming that the wind farm was in fact built in "wasteland" rather than a wetland. "Guodian Hefeng Wind Power, an attractive investment project, has fully complied with legal procedures and gone through complete formalities to [build in] Linghai," said Wang.

The 74 turbines installed so far make up the first CNY 500 million stage of the Linghai wind farm that will eventually see Guodian Hefeng invest CNY 3.3 billion. This investment accounts for 26.4% of the total fixed-assets investment in the city, with the wind farm potentially contributing
CNY 30-40 million in annual taxes to the local government when complete.

Wang confirmed in August that the fine would be cancelled, with the official at the forestry bureau who oversaw its issue removed from his post. Liu Peng, deputy director of the Linghai municipal forestry bureau and director of the Jinzhou Linghekou wetland protection administrative office, was transferred to the post of director of the municipal administrative approval centre within five days of the fine being cancelled.

Size reduction

Liu was unavailable for comment following his transfer, but when originally justifying the fine had said that the wetland protection zone had been deliberately reduced in size to take the Linghai wind farm out of the protection zone.

Linghekou wetland protection zone was set up in 2005 and approved by the Jinzhou municipal government, which has jurisdiction over Linghai city. In the subsequent years as the project was built, Jinzhou municipal government reduced the wetland protection zone by 8%, from 83,556 hectares to 77,030 hectares. As a result, the wind farm is not inside the protection zone but remains in the wetlands.

Liu said that this reduced both construction fees and environmental requirements and that he issued the fine according to Liaoning province wetland protection regulations.

Despite his removal from the post, Liu is still receiving support for imposing the fine. Dong Liming, director of the ecology division of the Jinzhou municipal environment protection bureau, challenged Wang's assertion that the project had been built in a wasteland. "The wind farm is located in a wetland," he said. "If it is a wasteland, there would be no need to make environment evaluations. The developer just takes the liberty to construct wind farms."

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