Debris-tainted water flowing into Tai Long Wan
Visitors to Sai Wan this weekend may flinch at the sight of their beach water being polluted by a building site upstream.
Sediment-filled water from two artificial ponds under construction on Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan coast has broken past sandbag barriers, which workers abandoned this week when construction on a businessman's beachside home was halted.
The murky water is rushing past a sign reading 'Private Property' tied to a green line separating energy tycoon Simon Lo Lin-shing's land from government property. Grey with unsettled earth, it is mingling with a pristine stream and draining into Tai Long Wan's waters, at a corner of the beach beyond the village's restaurants and shower houses.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department told the Environmental Protection Department early yesterday that members of the public had complained that muddy water from the Sai Wan site was polluting streams nearby.
And beach-goers aren't the only ones at risk - environmentalists say the broken barrier may harm local fauna. Alan Leung Sze-lun, senior conservation officer at WWF Hong Kong, said rare fish could be found in a stream named Kap Man Hang inside Sai Kung East Country Park.
'Those fish often stay inside the gaps of cobbles. Too much sediment will threaten their survival as they can hardly breathe,' Leung said. He urged the government to regulate major excavation works next to country parks.
A spokeswoman for the fisheries department confirmed the stream was part of the country park. She said staff were sent to the area to check the situation yesterday. The government's fish specialists will conduct a detailed on-site inspection today.
She said the excavation site might not be the only source of pollution as heavy rain on Thursday might have also flushed soil from surrounding areas into the stream.
Still, it is evident that water from Lo's abandoned construction site, murky the day before the rain, is seeping into Tai Long Wan.
A spokeswoman for Lo said the businessman had sent staff to block mud flowing into the stream with sandbags, although the sandbags had toppled into the stream by Friday. 'We will make sure no more muddy water will get into it,' she said.
A South China Morning Post reporter at the scene noted that no one had visited Sai Wan to repair the barrier by 6pm on Friday. The environment agency also reported that its inspectors did not see any of Lo's staff in the area yesterday.
Inaction is nothing new - excavation machinery has been left idle since work was suspended on Wednesday. Construction workers at the scene told Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man that they would move out the diggers yesterday, but the machinery was still at the site yesterday.
Removing the machinery is a losing game - if Lo removes excavation equipment without government permission, he faces a fine or jail time for operating construction materials in a country park, which surrounds the plot of land he had bought from Sai Wan villagers.
Not only has he abandoned his machinery at the site, but some are saying he plans to forgo his contract with the locals altogether. A close acquaintance of Lo's, who requested anonymity, said the businessman intended to abandon the contract. The person said Lo had paid residents 70 per cent of the contract sum and did not plan to pay the remainder.
The village head, Lai Kwan, said he did not know how much money each resident had received. Although all the villagers belong to the Lai family by blood or marriage and all have agreed to sell Lo their plots in a joint agreement, property titles are bought on an individual basis. 'If people who haven't received their money don't get their money, we'll find out why and then decide [whether] to take proper legal measures,' Lai said.
Lo's spokeswoman said he had never disclosed any transaction or settlement amount and would not comment on 'unfounded rumours'.