Future of new airport at risk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 1995, 12:00am

THE future of the new airport has been put in jeopardy after a proposal for a temporary fuel depot at Sha Chau was rejected yesterday by the Advisory Council on the Environment.

The Provisional Airport Authority (PAA) wants to have the site approved immediately. Without a guaranteed fuel supply for Chek Lap Kok, the 1997 opening date for the airport is thrown into question.

The council reviews the environmental soundness of major building projects and without its stamp of approval these projects cannot begin. Although the council has expressed concern in the past it has never rejected a project.

Usually, approved projects are forwarded to the Executive Council, which allows construction to begin. But there is no protocol for a rejected plan.

If the Executive Council approved the PAA's proposal and rejected the Advisory Council's recommendation it would make a mockery of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. The Government is currently drafting an EIA bill.

'What Exco does is its decision, but it has never rejected our recommendations,' council chairman Professor Wang Gungwu said. 'Whether they send it back to us for mitigating measures or seek the council's advice is still unclear. We await their decision.' A permanent site will eventually be constructed, but the PAA's best estimates say that would take five to seven years. Tsing Yi Island is the most likely site for a permanent fuel depot.

The PAA chose Sha Chau as the best location after rejecting 16 other sites. PAA corporate affairs director, Clinton Leeks, said the PAA's search was exhaustive and that Sha Chau presented the least risk to the environment.

'We believe the other sites were rejected on technical merit and environmental merit was not taken into account when choosing the sites,' Professor Wang said.

The council refused to endorse the PAA's plan because it felt not enough was know about the effect the depot would have on the rare Chinese pink dolphins in the area.

'This council, over the years, has been very conscious of the urgency of the airport project as a major factor,' Professor Wang said. 'We have been extremely willing to bend over backwards to accept EIAs.

'In the end, urgency itself as a reason did not satisfy the council. The council made it clear that urgency alone is not reason enough to accept a project.'