Faced with a shortage of land, officials in Lanzhou City, in China's Gansu province, embarked on a project in 2012 to bulldoze more than 700 mountains.
Now, almost two years in, a group of Chinese scientists have questioned the undertaking. They criticized the "largest mountain-moving project in Chinese history" in a June 4 article published in the science journal Nature.
Construction machines are lined up on a mountain during the ground-breaking ceremony for the Lanzhou New Area project in Lanzhou city, northwest China' Gansu province, on Oct. 26, 2012.
The project, estimated to cost more than $3.5 billion dollars, will flatten more than 500 square miles of land. Once finished, the formerly mountainous territory will hold a new urban district with high-rise buildings.
In the recent article, researchers Peiyue Li, Hui Qian & Jianhua Wu from Chang’an University's School of Environmental Science and Engineering cautioned the Lanzhou project, in addition to similar initiatives across the country, has not been vetted "environmentally, technically or economically."
They also warned of potentially disastrous outcomes. For example, the trio notes that while flattening mountains is common practice in strip mining, "[s]uch infill has never been used for urban construction."
According to the researchers, work was halted at Lanzhou in April 2013, after visible air pollution led to calls for an environmental assessment. While work began again four weeks later due to financial pressure from the local government and contractors, the environmental assessment has yet to be completed.
"There has been too little modeling of the costs and benefits of land creation," the authors write. "Inexperience and technical problems delay projects and add costs, and the environmental impacts are not being thoroughly considered."
In 2012, Angie Wong, a spokeswoman representing the Lanzhou project, sought to temper criticism about environmental harm.
"Lanzhou's environment is already really poor, it's all desolate mountains which are extremely short of water," Wong told The Guardian. "Our protective style of development will divert water to the area, achieve reforestation and make things better than before."