Council's decision gives pink dolphins a reprieve
By PATRICIA YOUNG
CHINESE pink dolphins earned a reprieve yesterday when the Advisory Council on the Environment, in a unprecedented vote, rejected plans to build an aviation fuel depot at Sha Chau which would supply fuel to the new airport.
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.
The Provisional Airport Authority (PAA) had planned to build a temporary aviation fuel depot at Sha Chau which would supply fuel to the new airport for five to seven years. Tsing Yi Island is the most likely site for a permanent fuel depot and pipeline to Chek Lap Kok.
The council refused to endorse the PAA's plan because it felt not enough was known about the effect the depot would have on the rare Chinese pink dolphins which swim in the shallow waters of Sha Chau.
'This council, over the years, has been very conscious of the urgency of the airport project as a major factor,' council chairman Professor Wang Gungwu said.
'We have been extremely willing to bend over backwards to accept EIAs (environmental impact assessments).
'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.' Usually, approved projects are forwarded to the Executive Council which allows construction to begin. But there is no protocol for a rejected plan.
'What Exco does is their decision,' Professor Wang said.
'Whether they send it back to us for mitigating measures or seek the council's advice is still unclear. We await their decision.' The council members also felt that barging fuel through the Ma Wan channel presented a safety risk to humans. They also argued that the PAA had not considered alternate sites to Sha Chau.
But PAA corporate affairs director, Clinton Leeks, said the PAA's search was exhaustive and presented the least risk to the environment.
World Wide Fund for Nature spokesman David Melville said he would not classify the rejection as a victory for environmentalist.
'I don't think it's something to be proud of,' Mr Melville said. 'It's good that the Council is not afraid to say 'No', if an EIA is not up to scratch, but it would be a victory if the EIA process was better.' According to newly revised figures by local scientists 13 dead dolphins and five dead porpoises have been found in Hong Kong waters over the past two years.