Saving dolphins, not face
THE Advisory Council on the Environment's rejection of plans for a temporary fuel depot for the new airport project is good news for dolphins at Chek Lap Kok - and bad news for the 'sardines' at Kai Tak. The present airport is so overcrowded regular travellers may see red that pink dolphins have given the Provisional Airport Authority a black eye (PAA). However, it is the PAA that has caused the problem, not environmentalists.
The authority had begun exploratory work at the site on Sha Chau before an environmental impact assessment had been completed. Such assessments should form an integral part of the development process. It is the authority that must now decide how to minimise the disruptive effect of the advisory council's recommendation.
One option would be for the PAA to hope the Executive Council rejects the advisory council's recommendation, though this has never happened before. Such a course would be inadvisable. Even if Exco supported the PAA, the authority's image would take a further knock, as would the Government's environmental policies. If the PAA wanted to push ahead with the plan, but failed to persuade Exco, the authority would appear inept.
As the authority is still accepting tenders for the project, it seems it is hoping the go-ahead will come sooner rather than later. However, the PAA considered 16 sites before deciding on Sha Chau, which suggests it now has 15 possible options to pursue. Alternatively, it might abandon plans for a temporary aviation fuel depot, and expedite the laying of a permanent pipeline.
The decision is up to the authority, but it is important that Exco does not throw out the environmental impact assessment. Hong Kong has lagged in developing measures to protect the environment. The present rules, which are voluntary, might bring a smile to the face of developers elsewhere in the world. If Exco undermines those weak measures, it will be a laughing stock.
If Hong Kong people were asked to choose between saving dolphins and saving the face of the PAA, or Exco, the smart money would be on the dolphins.