ACE sub-committee discusses Shek Kwu Chau or Tsang Tsui incinerator plans

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    Martin Williams

    Yesterday, I was with a small group from Cheung Chau who sat in public viewing room for meeting by EIA sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on the Environment, as they discussed environmental impact assessment for waste incinerator to be sited at Tsang Tsui, Tuen Muen District, or an artificial island to be constructed off Shek Kwu Chau, just west of Cheung Chau. Watched proceedings on a couple of tvs; only public session was presentations, then questions and answers.

    Began with presentation from Elvis Au of Environmental Protection Department, and consultants from AECOM.

    There was no highlighting of the fact that predominantly unsorted waste would be built – which can increase chances for dangerous emissions such as heavy metals and dioxins.

    Elvis Au told of plans to use 3T technology: temperature, turbulence and time enabling thorough burning. This plus activated carbon filters etc should mean emissions clean. We also heard of EU Standards for the emissions; but not why such focus on EU Standards (are these adequate?)

    Pre-judged by Government

    There was much focus on the Shek Kwu Chau option; Elvis Chau's comments suggested government had pretty much decided to ignore Tsang Tsui for time being, though may need incinerator there in future.

    Air Pollution Problems

    25% of time, wind blows towards from SKC site to Cheung Chau (8% of time, directly towards the island). Even so, should meet Air Quality Objectives (though note Hong Kong has very lax air quality objectives by comparison with, say, World Health Organization recommended standards for developed countries). Even so, predicted NOx could reach 176 (of max allowed of 300 in AQO), up to 60% of which would be contributed by the incinerator.

    Futher, Elvis reckoned that as the chimney will be 150m high, and housing on Cheung Chau is mostly below 50m above sea level, pollutants will mainly blow over top of people. And with distance 3.5-5km, will be good dispersal. Hmm…

    There was a suggestion for a "green belt" around plant at Tsang Tsui. There are already plans for lagoons with some nature conservation if this site is chosen; but idea was for planting native trees, establishing woodland on mostly rather eroded hills nearby. For SKC option, more greenery would mean larger reclamation to build artificial island: not desirable.

    Elvis said the incinerator would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions: burn less coal for electricity production, don't produce methane as in landfills. [NOTE: This is only true if ignore recycling of certain items, which in turn means don't need greenhouse gas emissions in producing them.]

    Death to Rare Porpoises! ("a fact of life")

    For SKC option, will lose 15.9ha of fisheries. A nearby larger marine park is planned, south of the Sokos: can this be enhanced? Maybe artificial reefs could help, it was suggested. Also stocking with fish fry [aha, rather like having a big fish farm!]

    Whale and dolphin expert and project Samuel Hung said finless porpoise is a "stakeholder" in SKC project. Will be affected; and can't mitigate habitat loss – which will be 31ha including coffer dam area. Suggested marine park for compensation.

    There was also mention of "enhancement" for marine park: not clear what this might be.

    A representative of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it would take time to establish the marine park. Partly as need maybe 12 months for consultation, to ensure contact with all fishermen's groups. [Why, then, only one month consultation for the EIA for the incinerators??] Maybe the marine park would only be ready by 2018 – the same year the SKC Incinerator Island could become operational.

    Edwin Lau, director of Friends of the Earth, noted re spirit of the EIA: avoid impact on environment, yet if reclaim land, can't avoid permanent impact on the marine environment.

    Elvis Au, whose title apparently includes responsibility for "nature conservation" – seems "nature destruction" would be more appropriate, was undeterred. "We'll lose 31ha – that's a fact of life." He spoke of mitigation package, with 700ha marine park [but not creation of any subsitute habitat]. He also said the porpoise has quite a wide range, in waters of south Lantau and south Lamma. Conveniently, Elvis omitted mention of Shek Kwu Chau being one of Hong Kong's best three sites for this species; and of the fact the IUCN rates this species Vulnerable to global extinction.

    There were questions about corals to be transplanted, if SKC option chosen. These include octocorals, a type of coral that has never been transplanted before in Hong Kong.

    Also some note regarding remarkable biodiversity of Shek Kwu Chau. Here, too, Elvis was confident: a sea channel would separate the Incinerator Island from SKC.

    Incinerator Will Look Attractive Yet Needs Hiding

    When landscaping was raised, Edwin Lau said the incinerator (or, properly, Integrated Waste Management Facility) would not be compatible with location by a natural island. Elvis was not worried here, either: they would try to minimise the impact on the landscape, such as by siting it in a way that SKC forms a natural barrier to hide the incinerator from Cheung Chau.

    Elvis mentioned people passing by on ferries, who'd see the incinerator with island as a backdrop. Edwin Lau couldn't see how they could make it compatible, with a 150m chimney. Yet the Tsang Tsui site is already "brownfield", with a power station close by.

    "It's a matter of design," said Elvis. There are examples of incinerators in rural areas that show they can be compatible, he said. Many in Denmark are quite attractive, said Elvis.

    Elvis said the design will be in tandem with the local community, so it's "what they like". [Hahaha, well I was at a consultation meeting on Cheung Chau, and what local people want is no incinerator!]

    Twaddle About Tourism

    Elvis also talked of consulting local communities about community facilities they'd like. Such as SARDA (the drugs rehabilitation organisation on Shek Kwu Chau) – maybe would like an educational facility.

    There could be tourism benefits, said Elvis. [Again, note this is for Shek Kwu Chau – the Tsang Tsui option seemed to have vanished from the lad's brain]

    In Japan, the Mashima incinerator attracts around 15,000 visitors a year, seeing a modern incienerator, and modern water recycling; Elvis cheerily said some members of the committee had been. [Well, had they been on their holidays I wonder, or on study jollies? And 15,000 visitors a year, eh? – Cheung Chau gets maybe 25,000 visitors on a regular weekend.]

    And that was the end of the public session of the meeting.

    Toothless Environmental Watchdog

    Bit pathetic really, this committee. Though incineration is not a new issue, seemed a lack of knowledge regarding incineration: otherwise, why no questions regarding the pitiful lack of waste sorting, and the potentially hazardous plan for burning pretty much all solid waste taken to the incinerator?

    Why no questioning of government so strongly favouring the most expensive, slowest, most environmentally damaging and most challenging option?

    Why, too, nothing about alternatives, notably the cheaper, faster, more efficient plan from Green Island Cement?

    Why, if incinerators are so great and look so attractive, hide it in place few Hong Kong people even know about?

    – why not, say, site it beside HK Disneyland, where Hong Kong has already paid for reclaimed land, and the theme park needs a new attraction?

    More info on web includes:

    為什麼石鼓洲不可有焚化爐簡要 Shek Kwu Chau Incinerator Island wrong because

    There's also a Facebook page: 石鼓洲並非一個合適處理垃圾的地點 Shek Kwu Chau wrong place for burning Hong Kong lap sap

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