Letter to South China Morning Post, appeared today:
In 1997, the government designated south Lantau and nearby islands for conservation and sustainable recreation. Yet this year, there are plans for a waste incinerator on a giant artificial island that will be built beside Shek Kwu Chau, just west of Cheung Chau. The community was given just a month to make comments.
Bob Bunker ("Island incinerator will not use Japan's clean-burn technology", 3 March 2011) noted that officials are telling us incinerators are safe for urban areas, yet we must build ours as far away as possible. There are more contradictions, many questions arise, and Shek Kwu Chau is clearly an appalling choice as incinerator site.
The environmental impact assessment shoehorns Shek Kwu Chau into appearing a viable site. Sai Kung islands are rejected for incinerator sites, as these and nearby areas are "popular locations for various recreational activities”. So why not reject Shek Kwun Chau as a potential site?
Though tiny, Shek Kwu Chau is a remarkable island for biodiversity. Two kinds of snake are only known from here. It’s also home to a lizard found on only three islands in the world, two-thirds of all Hong Kong's butterfly species, and our most magnificent breeding bird of prey, White-bellied Sea-Eagle.
Proponents argue the incinerator island will be separate from the island. Yet the reclamation will occupy an area similar to Victoria Park - killing corals, and impacting the best fishing grounds by Cheung Chau, as well as a prime location for finless porpoise, regarded as globally Vulnerable to extinction. The EIA merely states the impacts will be "acceptable", without giving details or answering: Acceptable to whom, exactly?
Impacts may be acceptable to government officials such as Elvis W.K. Au (“Reduce waste, but also prepare for incinerator”, 19 March 2011). Yet they should not be acceptable to Hong Kong people, for whom the incinerator may be out of sight, but will not be out of lungs. Summer south-westerlies will waft emissions right across Hong Kong.
There are alternatives. The government had favoured siting the incinerator at ash lagoons near Tuen Mun. It seems politics intervened: the government became afraid Tuen Mun people – and property developers? – would kick up a fuss.
Green Island Cement company has a plan, too. Unlike the government-touted incinerators, this would utilise technology that has been tried and tested in Hong Kong, with results showing emissions at levels well below the standards the government will aim for. There is industrial land available, with infrastructure; the capacity can exceed the government's planned incinerator, and the cost will be far lower - around HK$3 billion compared to HK$8 billion for Shek Kwu Chau.
Such options deserve fuller consideration. Hong Kong should not rush this consultation process. The government may wish to hide the incinerator away from the city, but it would be wrong to do so by damaging one of our loveliest and most ecologically significant coastal areas.