Environment watchdog backs delta bridge plan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2009, 12:00am

The environment watchdog yesterday approved the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project even though a marine park near the Brothers Islands for affected Chinese white dolphins will only be established after the bridge is built.

The government's representative on the Advisory Council on the Environment rejected a green group's suggestion that a joint group, including local and mainland officials, be set up to monitor the ecological impact of the bridge on border areas.

However, the Highways Department was asked to draw up a management plan detailing the scale and operation of the future marine park as one of the conditions for obtaining a working permit from the director of the Environmental Protection Department.

'The project cannot commence unless the management plan is endorsed by the council and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department,' council chairman Professor Lam Kin-che said at a council meeting yesterday.

Council members asked why the government could not designate the marine park earlier, so that it could become a refuge for affected dolphins, but project manager Cheng Ting-ning said the park could only be designated in 2015, after most of the marine construction activities were completed.

Cheng said it would take time to conduct a dolphin survey and the designation could encounter opposition from marine industries.

'The park is designated for dolphins to live peacefully in the future,' he said. 'We have to gather more realistic data to convince the public that there is need to designate a marine park.'

Council member Professor Chau Kwai-cheong said: 'The study should be started now, or you won't be able to locate the dolphins and many could be affected.'

Council member and Green Power chief executive Dr Man Chi-sum said the marine park should be designated as a mitigation measure, offering space for dolphins to escape from the project.

Cheng told members the park would not be smaller than the reclamation area involved in the project - more than 170 hectares.

Existing marine parks range from 600 to 1,200 hectares. The project is expected to start in the middle of next year if the director of the Environmental Protection Department accepts the council's recommendations and offers the Highways Department a permit.

Lam said that after the completion of the bridge, air pollution in Tung Chung and Tuen Mun could exceed stricter ceilings in future air quality objectives. But he said the council had to make decisions based on existing objectives.

WWF conservation director Dr Andy Cornish said he was disappointed. 'This is a major construction that will cut right through the heart of the areas favoured by the dolphins,' he said.