West Rail project worries watchdog

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 12:00am

More than 100 letters of objection have been sent out protesting against the Long Valley rail project, pressure groups said ahead of today's consultation deadline.

Among the letters opposing the controversial stretch of the West Rail project is one from the international authority overseeing wetland conservation. The Swiss-based Ramsar Bureau, the executive arm of the international Ramsar Convention, of which China is a signatory, aims to protect vital wetland in contracting countries.

It sent a letter to the State Forestry Administration in Beijing and to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa expressing fears over the project.

'It is possible that it would not be easy to avoid serious adverse effects upon the wetland and its surrounding ecosystem, if the railway project is implemented,' Delmar Blasco, secretary-general of the bureau, said in the letter.

Mr Blasco said the Long Valley was a rich ecosystem supporting a number of water birds from the nearby Mai Po marshes, which fall under the protection of the Ramsar Convention.

The bureau also asked the Beijing authorities to honour the duty of contracting countries to inform it of any possible change of the wetland habitat as soon as possible.

Although not making a formal objection, the bureau has been the highest international authority to express concern over the project.

Several international bird-watching groups, including Birdlife International, have voiced opposition to the 7.4km spur-line proposal, which could damage the wetland habitat of 210 bird species in a 25-hectare area.

Dr Ng Cho-nam, spokesman for a coalition against the project, said more than 100 letters of objection from the SAR and overseas had been sent to the Government before today's deadline. The Disneyland project on Lantau Island received fewer than 10 objections.

However, a substantial number of submissions could have been sent through e-mail and not counted by the Environmental Protection Department as they were not directly addressed to the department's director.

'We are seeking legal advice to see if these submissions should be counted,' a department spokeswoman said.

The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society said about 150 submissions were sent to the Chief Executive and the department through a pre-set format. 'We are worried that they could become junk mail and discarded by the department,' said project officer Carrie Ma Ka-wai.