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Anger at airport in ‘Bigfoot’ country

2014-05-09 09:16 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Si Huan

A controversal airport built among primeval forest in a mountain nature reserve reputed to be home to China's "Bigfoot" opened on Thursday.

Operations got under way at Shennongjia Hongping Airport in the central province of Hubei with a China Eastern Airlines flight from Shanghai.

Developers have claimed that the airport in Shennongjia Nature Reserve will be "the most beautiful ecological airport in China."

But critics say the project has caused environmental damage in the park, which UNESCO added to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 1990 as it is the only middle latitude primeval forest on earth.

Opponents also accuse the authorities of failing to make public an environmental assessment for the 1 billion yuan (US$160.5 million) project, which should have been published before work began in 2011.

The airport was originally scheduled to open last October, but this was delayed due to protests.

At 2,580 meters above sea level, Shennongjia Hongping Airport is the highest airport in China outside of the Tibetan Plateau.

However, in constructing the airport, which features a 2,800-meter runway and a 3,000-square-meter terminal building, five mountain tops were leveled and 217 karst caves filled.

Ecological restoration

Local officials insisted that the airport project posed no environmental threat as it had passed a strict environment assessment and ecological restoration was carried out.

The publicity department of the local government yesterday said the environmental assessment report was publicized last October.

However, the report could not be found on its website yesterday.

With abundant rain and water resources, Shennongjia is home to more than 3,700 species of plants and at least 1,050 kinds of animals — including the endangered golden snub-nosed monkey.

At least 40 of its plant species and 70 of its animal species are under state protection.

Another rumored resident of Shennongjia is the "Yeren," — "Wild Man" in English. Some 400 people have claimed to have seen China's Bigfoot in Shennongjia over the past century.

There will initially be three China Eastern Airlines flights from Shanghai via Wuhan a week, with this increasing to daily flights next month.

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