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Chp 83, Ng Tung River Training – Forty years champion for the environment

Ng Tung River Training

For the purpose of drainage and flood control, the Drainage Services Department (DSD) undertakes “river training” works in rivers and streams in the New Territories.

In 1998, CA objected to the rehabilitation works of River Indus (Ng Tung River) at Kwan Tei – a river long known to the Association – which was part of the Phase 1A of the Rural Drainage Rehabilitation Scheme (North East New Territories). CA’s objection was against the tree felling of an existing woodland along the river, affecting the habitat of protected species of bats.

CA conducted its own daytime survey of bats nearby the affected woodland and submitted the result in an objection letter to DSD on 20 August 1998. CA’s effort paid off when it was informed by the DSD in a letter dated 1 September 1998 that “after thorough study”, Mouchel Asia Ltd, the project consultant, found it “feasible to provide further protection to the existing woodland by revising the alignment of the proposed temporary fence so as to exclude” part of the land originally earmarked.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 82, Tung Chung River – Forty years champion for the environment

Tung Chung River

A strange theft took place in 2003: natural boulders were stolen from Tung Chung River causing destruction to the stream ecology. This was roundly condemned by green groups.

What was more bizarre was that the “thief” turned out to be a contractor of the Civil Engineering and Development Department. The boulders were procured for the construction of the artificial lake in Penny’s Bay.

CEDD was rightly chastised for lack of supervision over its contractors. The matter was discussed at the joint meeting of the LegCo Panel on Planning Lands and Works and Panel on Environmental Affairs on 23 February 2004. CA took the opportunity to submit a paper on “Rivers and Streams Conservation” calling for “an immediate review of the existing policy on the protection of local streams and rivers with the aim of rectifying the continued neglect and controlling the frequent destruction of such an important habitat type in Hong Kong.” For CA, Tung Chung River and other cases like concrete-lining of a stream at Sha Kok Mei showed that rivers and streams were not adequately protected

Ironically, much of the destruction was due to works carried out by the government under the rural public works programme of the Home Affairs Department, known as “Rural Planning and Improvement Strategy (RPIS)” in 1990-2000 and “Rural Public Works (RPW) Programme” afterwards. They are minor works projects intended to improve the living quality and environment of the rural areas, and may include projects on:

  • access roads, bridges, retaining walls, footpaths, parking areas, passing places and steps;
  • reservoirs, water pipelines, dams, wells, water tanks, pumps, irrigation channels and standpipes;
  • sewerage pipes and treatment facilities to unsewered villages;
  • drains, surface water channels, stream and river embankments, nullahs, culverts, bunds and flood mitigation measures.

However, being “minor” these projects are not required to go through careful planning or execution. Poor regulation and monitoring thus led to the unintended result of damaging streams and rivers. Sometimes the projects are by no means “minor” and this exacerbates the damage. Instead of improvements, they threaten ecology and damage rural landscape.

To prevent further damage, CA proposed that the government and developers should adopt the “presumption of conservation” principle, similar to the one imposed under the Harbour Protection Ordinance, for rivers and streams. Thus works affecting natural rivers and streams should only take place with enough justification after thorough public consultation. There should also be a central register of all rivers and streams in Hong Kong which should be made available to the works departments, private companies and the general public. As the conservation authority, the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department should be empowered to issue licenses for works affecting rivers and streams.

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 81, Ngong Ping – Forty years champion for the environment

Ngong Ping

The Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car and Theme Park is a famed tourist attraction. During its construction, the government and the developer, MTRC, were challenged by CA to build it as a demonstration project in sustainable development, not just another tourism project. That means abiding by the most stringent environmental standards. CA’s comments were directed at three aspects of the project, namely, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the sewage treatment plant, and the public transport interchange.

In a submission in April 2003, CA judged that the EIA report provided by the MTRC was inadequate and had not addressed the cumulative impacts of the cable car, the theme village, the car parks and additional traffic, the sewage treatment plant, the roads and the additional visitors. CA also expressed concern about the design and construction of the emergency rescue trail and its impact on woodland, shrubs and nearby streams. Although the MTRC had committed to follow guidelines adopted in the New South Wales National Park Service, CA cautioned that such good intention must be strictly followed through by the contractors if it were to be realized.

As a whole the Cable Car project would affect many areas in the Country Park and many woodlands and stream courses. The need for the strictest monitoring by the project proponent and the Environmental Protection Department was stressed. In the views of CA, only a full-scale EIA could address that, hence the environmental permit should not be granted until the full comprehensive EIA was conducted.

At the same time CA was following up with LegCo on one particular component of the whole development, namely, the Ngong Ping Sewage Treatment Works. The $250.4 million worth project was to provide tertiary treatment of sewage, a level much welcomed by CA. But that did not mean CA would accept the project uncritically. On the contrary, CA asked the LegCo Environmental Panel and the Finance Committee to withhold funding approval until the cost-effectiveness of the project had been proven (letter of 16 May 2003 to LegCo Finance Committee).

CA’s main concern was that the project might be over-designed and its budget over-estimated. Firstly, CA questioned the capacity estimation which made no distinction between the per capita sewage generated by visitors and residents. Since in reality a transient visitor’s impact would be much less than a resident, such estimate might lead to an over-design of two times or more than the actual capacity required. Secondly, given that the visitor numbers had to be built up gradually, a modular design to increase the capacity in stages would have been preferred to building up the maximum capacity in one go. Thirdly, the estimated capital expenditure for the plant, at HK$153 million, was considered an over-estimate. But most important of all, the project comprised a full capacity pipeline to the seashore for ocean discharge. Since tertiary treatment would produce water of re-use standard, the ocean discharge would not be needed unless during emergency shutdown. But the latter could be addressed by alternative arrangements such as a 24-hour buffer tank or artificial wetlands for emergency discharge. The pipeline had therefore to be justified. As CA asked, “Why should we need to spend such a huge sum of public money if the treated sewage which is supposedly as good as drinking water, is not planned to be reused fully? The government has a duty to coordinate all parties and to ensure that this precious resource is fully utilized.”

On the issue of public transport interchange (PTI), CA submitted an objection in July 2003 to the Environment Transport and Works Bureau requesting explanation of why a huge PTI of 1.2 hectares had to be provided – the Theme Village itself was only 2 hectares in size. An earlier letter of CA to the MTRC of 22 April 2003 pointed out that the PTI was too large and would cause disturbances to the natural Ngong Ping area. It also had a spin-off effect of constraining the size, location and design Theme Village, necessitating a diversion of the Ngong Ping Stream which would not otherwise have been necessary.

Although CA’s engagement with MTRC and the government did produce some minor modifications, the basic parameters remained unchanged. Ngong Ping 360 was opened in September 2006.

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 80, Disney and Penny’s Bay – Forty years champion for the environment

Disney and Penny’s Bay

In November 1999, the government concluded a deal with Disney to build the Hong Kong Disneyland. In a press release issued on 3 November, CA declared Disney as unsustainable consumerism and called for a sustainability impact assessment to be conducted before the project was approval by the Executive Council. Citing the case of Florida where Disney purchased a 8,000 ha nature reserve to compensate for ecological damage, CA demanded that Disney provide commensurate ecological compensation should the Hong Kong Disneyland go ahead.

On 5 November 1999, CA petitioned Disney’s Hong Kong office, protesting against Disney’s refusal to commit to ecological compensation for Hong Kong Disneyland as in Florida. CA considered that as an unacceptable treatment of Hong Kong as “second class”, and called on Disney to undertake compensation as well as contribute to a nature conservation fund.

During the construction of Hong Kong Disneyland, CA continued to monitor the environmental impacts, particularly on the treatment of dioxin in the course of decommissioning the Cheoy Lee Shipyard in Penny’s Bay. Accordingly, in response to the EIA report published in February 2002, CA made a submission to the Legislative Council on 12 March 2002 expressing concern over the offsite thermal desorption treatment of dioxin-contaminated mud which CA considered to be more risky than the on-site treatment option, although the latter might take longer time. CA concluded, “Regardless of how this contamination issue is resolved, the Conservancy Association believes that this issue raised a wider question on the quality of planning, and the quality of decision making on major infrastructure projects in Hong Kong. There is a danger that more of the same problems will surface if political commitments on land-use and work programmes are made before the due process of planning and EIA is allowed to carry through in a truthful and professional manner. The society at large will then have to pay higher costs and risks for second-rated solutions designed under politically imposed constraints.”

June 26, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 79, Tai O – Forty years champion for the environment

Tai O

In compensation for the ecological damage resulting from the Airport Core Projects, the government intended to plant mangrove in the Tai O salt field. This would necessitate re-construction of the original boat shelter. Consultation on these works began in July 1995.

In the meantime, the community’s interest in the Tai O grew, as the stilt houses, the river and the village together made up an interesting attraction both from heritage and tourism angles. Planning Department began a Study on Revitalization of Tai O, but met with resistance from. In a statement in May 2000, CA questioned the rationale for the study, arguing that Tai O needed not be “developed” at all and objecting to any study that amounted to a commercialization of Tai O. CA also considered it bad planning to propose a big new anchorage close to the mangrove replanting area, preferring: “Tai O should be peaceful fishing village, not a fishing boat repair centre.”

The government’s proposal for seawall improvement was also criticized for causing destruction of many stilt houses. The idea was to prevent flooding but CA did not consider the problem serious enough to warrant a heavy engineering approach. On improving access, CA preferred water-based transport using small junks (“Kai To” 街渡) and the restoration of the traditional pull-push boat across the river channel. Although the need to improve emergency vehicle access was not disputed, the government was urged to consider the character of Tai O and adopt a sympathetic approach. The proposal to build a helipad by reclaiming land was rejected. Finally, government was asked to help villages in the proper maintenance of the stilt houses.

CA’s further work on Tai O was guided by the principles established in its 2000 statement. In September 2007, CA reiterated the same principle of “maximum conservation, minimum intervention” in responding to Civil Engineering and Development Department’s project on “Improvement Works for Tai O Facelift”, which CA considered to be more akin to re-development than improvement.

Despite the difference of views, CA believes the best solution for a sustainable Tai O would emerge from a proper public engagement of stakeholders, hence CA was a partner in the Design Competition for the Revitalisation of Tai O organized by CEDD, together with 11 other bodies including government departments, professional organization and green groups. The Competition was kicked off in March 2008 and lasted until September. It was won by a team of architects who chose preservation and minimum intervention as the best way to revive Tai O.

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment