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Military airport in Daegu set for relocation

Jan 30,2020
Korea’s Ministry of National Defense on Wednesday said it finalized a decision to relocate a military airport in Daegu to a rural site in North Gyeongsang in accordance with a vote by local residents.

The new airport will occupy an area of around 15.3 square kilometers (5.9 square miles), straddling the boundaries between Uiseong and Gunwi counties, according to a press release from the ministry.

A total of around 60,000 residents in the two counties cast their votes on Jan. 21 on the question of hosting the new airport, which will be moved out of Daegu due to longstanding complaints by residents of the city about the noise from the military facility and the limitations it placed on urban development in the area.

Almost 90 percent of Uiseong voters and around 76 percent of Gunwi voters approved the relocation, hoping that the airport could economically revitalize the two counties, which have some of the highest shares of elderly people - as well as the lowest birthrates - in the entire country.

But the vote has also been subject to controversy, after Gunwi filed a request with the central government on Jan. 22 to host the airport on its own instead of sharing it with Uiseong.

The Ministry of National Defense, however, said it would respect the results of the earlier vote from both counties.

“We still have the process of [getting the approval of] legislative committees, but the decision has been effectively made to make Uiseong and Gunwi the co-hosts [of the new airport],” said a ministry official.

The government plans to invest around 8 trillion won ($6.8 billion) into relocating the military airbase at the new site, located just over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from its original location in Daegu.

The military airbase in Daegu, informally known as K-2, was first built in 1958 by an airstrip and Air Force base that was used by U.S. troops during the 1950-53 Korean War. It currently houses the Korean Air Force’s 11th Fighter Wing, operating F-15K jets - the brunt of Korea’s aerial power. The base also shares the airport, however, with the civilian Daegu International Airport, which serves flights all across Asia.

Given its central location not far off the urban city center of Daegu, the airport’s growth over time generated heavy dissatisfaction among city residents, who in turn put pressure on local politicians to move the military airbase out of the city.

In June 2016, the government decided to scrap plans to develop a major international airport to serve North and South Gyeongsang and instead chose to expand Gimhae International Airport to meet Busan and South Gyeongsang’s needs.

The following month, the government announced it would relocate both the military and civilian portions of the Daegu airport to a rural location in North Gyeongsang.

According to some estimates, relocation and auxiliary costs associated with the project could balloon to up to 30 trillion won, making it one of the most expensive public works in the region’s history.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, LEE CHUL-JAE [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]