BY JANAE MARTIN
Nanjing– Every midnight it begins.
The irascible grumbling of a mechanized beast churning the rock and soil beneath its clay-caked conveyor belts. The creak and pop of rusty joints grinding and settling their way through stilted movements. The thunder of boulders and large debris being flung into large metal bins. And, finally, the wracking, earth-quaking, unrelenting stabs of the metal drill bit perforating into the stone deep below the streets of Nanjing.
The construction is for an exit to the new subway line that will increase the accessibility of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center to the surrounding neighborhood. However, the contractors are rushing to complete a project whose deadline was last year. This urgency has pressured the crew to work throughout the night, between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., before starting again at 6 a.m.
Students at the Center claim that the project, located right next to dormitories, is preventing them from sleeping and is affecting their academic performance. Members of HNC administration and student government have compromised with the construction company to balance student welfare with the city’s urban development goals.
Deng Yitao, member of the student committee, said that this activity violates students’ rights under the national EPA guidelines for noise and environmental pollution.
“There is a decibel limit for night time,” Deng said. “The work is above that limit.”
China’s Urban Regional Environmental Noise Standards prescribes daytime and nighttime decibel limits for five zoning categories ranging from Class 0 to Class 4. At night, construction cannot exceed 55 decibels.
Deng called the EPA and the city government to complain. He discovered that the construction company, simply known as Ditie Gongsi (Subway Company), had a special permit to continue construction during the protected hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. EPA and municipal representatives claimed there was nothing they could do.
However, there were problems with this permit. First, it was only granted for a five-day period. Second, last year, HNC and the construction company reached an agreement about keeping the noise level down at night.
“The noise was worse last year,” said HNC Co-Director Cornelius C. Kubler.
Kubler and Co-Director He Changzhou live in rooms that also face the street construction and sympathize with students’ complaints. After meeting with the four members of Banwei to assess the effects of the noise on students, the co-directors met with the construction company manager and representatives of the Nanjing University building and property issues department to begin negotiations.
According to a 2012 report, the acceleration of Nanjing’s rail transport development is part of the city’s “Twelfth Five Year Plan.”
To satisfy the demands of urbanization, the municipal government placed a high priority on expanding the subway system. The report said that of the city’s 100 million-passenger transport volume, one third were regular railway passengers, and that the expanded system would ease congestion with greener transportation options.
Municipal officials were eager to have an updated railway system ready to facilitate traffic for the 2014 Nanjing Summer Youth Olympic Games. Officials hoped the games would be a “Green Olympics.”
However, the railway expansion faced challenges and delays, reportedly due to misappropriated funds, and the 2014 games passed while work continued. City officials granted special permission for construction throughout protected “night hours.”
After the first negotiation meeting, Ditie Gongsi promised to respect night hours, only to renege on the agreement two days later. Co-Directors Kubler and He arranged a second meeting and used sterner tactics.
As several students had approached the administration about permission to move into nearby hotels, the co-directors told the representatives of Ditie Gongsi that they would be responsible for the cost of moving the students.
Kubler reminded the company of President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the United States and the importance of improving Chinese-American relations. Though Kubler emphasized that both international and Chinese students are of equal importance, it seems the company was more cooperative once they realized that half the center’s students are internationals.
The efforts of Chinese students like Deng Yitao have been crucial in reaching a compromise. Talking with the EPA, the municipal office and the Ditie Gongsi manager, Deng has been successful in reporting and monitoring the nightly construction and getting EPA and company representatives to halt unsanctioned construction.
Ditie Gongsi’s manager claimed he plans on honoring the latest agreement of “light construction” between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., but he said that such limitations will delay the current phase to next spring. The projected completion date for this phase was the end of this year.
“Because we can’t work at night, yours will be the last site to finish,” he said.
Kubler and other senior HNC staff believe that the company will look for any opportunity to infringe upon the agreement.
“Frankly,” Kubler said, “I don’t think the problem is solved once and for all.”