Incinerator, bigger landfills cost HK$23b

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 March, 2012, 12:00am

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The government will seek HK$23 billion in June to fund construction of a waste incinerator and expansion of at least two landfills, amid strong opposition and looming legal challenges.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has put a price tag of HK$14.9 billion on an incinerator with a handling capacity of 3,000 tonnes on a reclaimed site next to Shek Kwu Chau island off south Lantau, far more than the HK$5 billion spent on a similar project to burn 2,000 tonnes of wastewater sludge in Tuen Mun, approved in 2009.

The incinerator will also cost about HK$353 million a year to run. A contractor will be selected to design, build and operate the plant, for an initial period of 15 years.

Opponents are vowing to step up their lobbying of politicians in different parties to ensure the request for what they call misallocated funding will be rejected.

Some Cheung Chau residents, who live five kilometres away from the proposed plant, vowed to file a legal challenge against the project once it was approved. One resident has already filed a judicial review.

Environmental officials said the funding was crucial for long-term waste management. If approved, Hong Kong could start burning waste by 2018. This would fill the vacuum in a waste-treatment strategy that has relied on landfills as the sole disposal channel since 1997, when the last incinerator was shut down over pollution concerns.

Officials will also seek about HK$8 billion to lengthen the life of the Tseung Kwan O landfill by six more years to 2020, and the Ta Kwu Ling landfill in North District by eight to 10 years to 2026. A HK$33 million consultancy will also be carried out to review a Tuen Mun landfill expansion plan.

All three plans also face strong opposition from local residents.

The government hopes that with the incinerator, stepped up recycling efforts, and organic waste-treatment plants in planning, the amount of daily waste dumped in landfills could be cut by 2,000 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes by 2018.

Living Islands Movement chairwoman Louise Preston opposed the incineration scheme, and plans to lobby politicians to block the funding. She said the moving grate technology the incinerator used was outdated. Instead, she favoured plasma arc technology, which she said was cleaner and more efficient, although the environment department said it was only suited for small-scale operations and was used mainly for hazardous waste. 'Technology has developed dramatically over the past year and the EPD's information is absolutely outdated,' Preston said.

She also said siting the waste-treatment plant in Tuen Mun, an alternative site also found acceptable in the environmental-impact assessment study, would be substantially cheaper, as the site had industrial land ready for use. She believed a substantial amount of the plant's cost was due to the need to reclaim 16 hectares of land. The reclamation work will cost HK$2.4 billion.

Friends of the Earth described the funding request as 'robbery' of taxpayers' money, since the government had failed to deliver the waste reduction targets it set out in 2005, and now proposed to spend a huge sum to fill the gaps.