Landfill row minister refuses to back down

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 October, 2010, 12:00am

The environment minister is standing firm on plans to expand Tseung Kwan O landfill, saying the section of Clear Water Bay country park that would be lost is of little ecological value.

Edward Yau Tang-wah's comments yesterday came despite strong protests by lawmakers and residents against the extension.

The five-hectare extension would mean dumping could continue for another six years, Yau said. If it did not go-ahead, the site would be full by 2013, and it would also mean two other landfills in the city would be full in seven years.

The plan involves changing the border of the country park to accommodate the Southeast New Territories Landfill. A nearby piece of land, yet to be chosen, would then be designated country park to make up for the lost land.

The plan, announced last year, has been criticised by residents, already upset by the smell they say comes from the existing landfill and garbage trucks moving around the area.

Yau visited the site yesterday, a day before a Legislative Council subcommittee was due to discuss the issue. His visit led to more than 50 residents taking to the street in protest. He also wrote a letter, lobbying for the plan, to all Legco members.

After the visit, Yau told reporters and residents: 'We have evaluated the ecological value of the site to see if any ecological species would have been affected. The result was that its value wasn't high. In addition, it is on the edge of the site and doesn't obstruct any walking paths.'

But Miriam Lau Kin-yee, a Liberal Party lawmaker who represents the transport functional constituency, said she would continue to oppose the plan when it was discussed at today's Legco meeting.

'The smell has been disturbing residents for over a decade. Why should it be enlarged?' she said. 'They haven't managed to get rid of the odour over so many years, how could they remove it quickly with this new work? We can't trust them.'

Lau and other legislators issued an ultimatum last week, calling on the chief executive and his Executive Council advisers to withdraw the plan. Otherwise, they warned, they would try to scrap the order by putting it to a Legco vote.

Yau, speaking after the visit to the landfill, said the department would step up work to alleviate the smell. Garbage trucks would be hand-cleaned, and from early next year, all the trucks would have to go through automatic washers before being allowed to leave the landfill. The main access to the site would also be cleaned eight times a day, up from twice a day.

In July, the department placed two electronic monitoring devices near the edge of the landfill and at Ocean Shores, a private estate about 3 kilometres away, to identify the source of the smell. Yau said the monitoring would continue.

The city would also start using garbage incinerators for more efficient waste processing, Yau told the residents.

The protesters during Yau's visit were mostly residents of Lohas Park, Ocean Shore and Tseung Kwan O Plaza.

Christine Fong Kwok-shan, one of the 50 protesters and a Liberal Party district councillor in Sai Kung, said: 'We can even smell the stink when garbage trucks pass us by. The improvement work he said would be done will not get rid of that smell.

'It's the town planning that's wrong in the first place - putting the landfill and homes so closely together [within 800 metres]. So the smell will be there as long as the landfill is here,' she said.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, chairman of environmental group Green Sense, said the department's decision to take the five hectares might be the only short-term solution, but urged Yau not to expand other landfills in the future. 'What we really need is a long-term road map that finds ways to reduce waste, not this short-term one that requires land to fill them,' he said.

Kwok Ying-ying, of another green group, Greeners Action, said the government should explore the alternatives, such as charging people when they dump rubbish.

Jeffrey Pong Chiu-fai, a doctor and a Sai Kung co-opted district council member, said landfills emitted hydrogen sulphide, which smelt like rotten eggs, and was bad for your health. If people breathed in that kind of chemical they could develop a cough or a sore throat, he said.