Unsanctioned airport work begins on Sha Chau
PRELIMINARY work has begun on the controversial aviation fuel depot on Sha Chau before the project has been approved.
The Provisional Airport Authority (PAA) said the site design drilling it was conducting in the shallow waters off the island did not violate any regulations.
But environmentalists are furious that early stage work is being done on a site which has not been approved by the Executive Council as the final location for the temporary depot which will service Chek Lap Kok airport.
The green groups said the unannounced drilling was harmful to the sensitive Chinese pink dolphins which feed off the coast of the sandy island.
'It looks like a foregone conclusion that the site will be at Sha Chau, which makes a sham of the whole [approval] process,' World Wide Fund for Nature spokesman Jo Ruxton said.
'This limited drilling is already having an effect on the dolphins.' Environmentalists were alerted to the drilling last month when dolphin watchers reported the normally placid dolphins demonstrating 'stress behaviour'.
A drilling barge was spotted off the northeast shore of Sha Chau.
In the following two weeks the environmentalists, and officials in the Agriculture and Fisheries and the Environmental Protection departments, tried to track down who was doing the drilling.
Representatives from the Civil Engineering Department, the Civil Aviation Department, the New Airport Projects Co-ordination Office and the PAA all denied knowledge of the drilling.
It was not until the South China Morning Post joined the chase that it was learned the PAA was responsible.
'This is not the way it is supposed to work and here we are constantly being surprised by things like this,' said independent legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai, who serves on the Advisory Council for the Environment.
'The Government should release this information as a matter of course. And there must be better inter-department communication.' PAA director of corporate affairs, Clinton Leeks, said there was no intentional deception on the part of the PAA. The delay was the result of a misunderstanding over which drilling site was involved.
'It is no secret,' Mr Leeks said. 'We are doing site investigation work. It is the type of work which, ideally, would be done by the project contractor.
'We are doing the early work which the [successful] bidder will reimburse us for.' The environmental impact assessment report on Sha Chau, which had been due to go to the Advisory Council for the Environment next week, has now been delayed to next month.
'The PAA regard the environmental impact assessment procedure as a showcase,' said Lisa Hopkinson of Friends of the Earth.