Find dam plotter, greens demand

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2008, 12:00am

WWF calls for justice over eco-vandalism

The Lands Department should track down the mastermind behind the illegal building of a dam across a natural stream in Tai Po now that the contractor responsible for the damages has been identified, a conservation group has said.

The call came as another contractor, hired by the department, started to demolish the illegal structures yesterday. The work is expected to last three weeks and be completed around next month's Lunar New Year.

A spokesman for the Tai Po district lands office said it was their priority to reinstate the stream as quickly as possible, though an investigation into who commissioned the dam was continuing.

A 25-metre dam was found built across a tributary of the ecologically important Upper Tai Po River. The road was part of a small-house development plan submitted to the Town Planning Board but not yet approved.

A source close to the board said the contractor of the dam had been identified, but further inquiry was required to ascertain its full role in the case. It also remained unclear who commissioned the work.

The source said if there was sufficient evidence, the board would consider prosecuting the contractor for unauthorised extraction under the Lands (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance.

If convicted, the contractor could face a maximum fine of HK$5,000 and up to six months' jail.

Both the small-house plan applicant, Lau Koon-hei, the head of Pun Shan Chau village, and land owner Master Trend Limited denied knowledge of the illegal works. Alan Leung Sze-lun, WWF senior conservation officer, said it was not enough to prosecute the contractor, as the person who commissioned the work should also be held responsible.

'Where is the justice if we fail to do so? It will just encourage the repeat of similar destruction in the future,' he said. Dr Leung said laws and policies should be reviewed to plug possible loopholes that prevent the mastermind from being held responsible.

As a stronger deterrent, Dr Leung also proposed that government planners and their advisers should not approve any land rezoning or small-house projects involving applicants linked to eco-vandalism.

Last week, officers from the lands, environmental protection, drainage services, and agriculture, fisheries and conservation departments visited the site with Dr Leung to work out a restoration plan for the stream.

Officials said lighter machinery would be used to dig up and remove the concrete dam before misplaced boulders and rocks were restored. Trees and grass would also be planted to prevent soil erosion.

The worst eco-vandalism in Hong Kong took place in 2003, when a section of the Tung Chung River was illegally excavated to supply boulders for an artificial lake near Disneyland.

Four people, including a former rural committee head and the contractor, were convicted of conspiracy to fraud, illegal excavation and theft of stones on unleased land and sentenced to 11 to 20 months' jail in 2005.