Fuel depot risks tolerable: council

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 April, 2007, 12:00am

Workers lose battle against project

A group of workers from a Tuen Mun steel mill yesterday lost a major battle against the construction of an aviation fuel storage project adjacent to their workplace, after the government's environment advisers concluded that the associated risks were within acceptable limits.

The Advisory Council on the Environment yesterday decided to recommend environment chief Anissa Wong Sean-yee accept the revised impact assessment of the project and issue a permit to the Airport Authority to construct the storage facility.

The decision came days after the Town Planning Board deferred Shiu Wing Steel's application to rezone the storage site's land use while it awaited the council's final views. The rezoning was seen as the plant's last resort to stall the project.

Speaking after the council's meeting, chairman Lam Kin-che said members were satisfied with the risk-assessment results and assumptions behind an additional Airport Authority study.

But the steel workers, who launched a judicial review against the project in 2002, were disappointed with the decision, criticising it as an 'apparent violation of the principle under the environmental impact assessment ordinance to protect public safety'.

The Court of Final Appeal last year ruled the previous assessment on the storage project, accepted by the environmental watchdog in 2002, was flawed as it failed to take into account the scenario of a total failure of the facility.

The ruling halted construction and forced the Airport Authority to revise its risk assessments with hypothetical scenarios like a plane hitting the storage site.

Yesterday's decision meant the Airport Authority can soon resume construction on the facility, which will have up to 12 tanks with a total capacity of 388,000 cubic metres and a pipeline linking it to a storage facility in Sha Chau.

The authority said the facility was vital to maintaining fuel supply as air traffic grew.

In response to the workers' challenge on whether the Tuen Mun site, where dangerous industries cluster, was an appropriate location, Professor Lam quoted the revised assessment, which said the chance of a total failure was only one in a billion.

'We are satisfied and confident that the risk is acceptable,' he said.

Ho Ping-kei, a spokesman for the steel workers, said they would write to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to intervene.

'There are lots of questions in the report and it should be rejected,' he said, adding that they still had doubts about the claim that only 189 lives would be lost in a total failure.

A British expert hired by the workers to re-examine the report concluded that the actual risk was at least five times higher than estimated.

The expert was not allowed to present his views in a meeting of the assessment subcommittee.

An Airport Authority spokeswoman said it welcomed yesterday's decision and pledged to construct the project in line with the most stringent standards.