A massive area in Lung Kwu Tan, the ancestral home of Heung Yee Kuk chief Lau Wong-fat, was cleared and levelled for future dumping of waste soil from construction of the Hong Kong-Guangzhou high-speed rail line.
The 85,000-square metre site in Lung Tsai, south of Lung Kwu Tan village in Tuen Mun, looks like barren land with trees chopped down and the site bulldozed. But in months, it is likely to be heaped with piles of soil.
The site, partly owned by Lau, an executive councillor and chairman of the kuk, which represents indigenous inhabitants, was rented by village chief Lau Wai-ping two months ago.
'There is no planning [control] on this site and this makes it possible to receive the earth from the ongoing cross-border express rail construction,' Lau Wai-ping said. 'This is good for everybody, as these materials are clean and they can be reused in other construction projects. Keeping them here is better and much cheaper than moving them to a landfill or the mainland.'
Lau disclosed his plan when asked about the clearance at a site which green activists say was a butterfly hot spot. Over the past de
cade, the site has degenerated due to gradual man-made destruction such as dumping and tree-cutting.
Lau did not say how he could get the soil from the HK$60 billion rail project contractors and how much he would earn from the earth storage. Under the construction waste charging law in Hong Kong, it costs HK$125 to dump a tonne of such waste in a landfill.
According to the environmental impact assessment report for the rail link, at least 9 million cubic metres of unwanted construction waste generated from building 26 kilometres of tunnels will require disposal.
Some of it might be used for construction of an artificial island for the proposed Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, cement plants and an ongoing reclamation project in Taishan in the western Pearl River Delta.
Lau said waste would be stored at the Lung Tsai site for about two years and then handed back to Lau Wong-fat, who he understood had always wanted to develop it for housing. The area could have 100 villas but Lau Wong-fat declined to comment.
The village chief also recently commissioned workers to remove more vegetation on the site, which used to house a golf driving range and a kart course.
Trying to diffuse his fellow villagers' worries about possible environmental nuisance from the storage operation, which is just 50 metres from the nearest village houses, Lau Wai-ping pledged that any material would not be stacked too high and surface run-offs would be properly controlled.
But the land clearance has sparked concern from green activists who have monitored changes at the site, known for rare butterfly sightings - such as the Redlace Wing - over the past decade.
Dr Cheng Luk-ki, the research head of Green Power, said the site had been damaged at different stages over the past decade.
Photographs taken by the group since 1997 show how it was turned from a once-green field into concrete and then a dumping site.
Cheng suspected that damage was deliberately done to pre-empt any attempt by the government to impose a zoning control. 'By trashing the site before any future zoning is imposed, all existing uses on the site can be kept and therefore allow more room for the landowner to develop in the future,' he said.
Cheng said there were well known examples of damage being inflicted on ecologically sensitive sites before a zoning plan came into force. He cited Sham Chung, one of the largest freshwater wetlands in Hong Kong.
The group wrote to the Lands Department, Environmental Protection Department, Planning Department and the Drainage Services Department to inquire if the work at Lung Tsai was authorised, and if they had received any development proposal.
The Planning Department said since the site has no zoning cover, any land-use change had to be scrutinised by the Lands Department. It also refused to disclose if a zoning plan was being drawn up for the site, as it said this was sensitive information.
Lands officials did not reply to inquiries made on Friday.
The Environmental Protection Department said it found no illegal dumping activities at the site or breaches of environmental ordinances in an inspection on Friday. 'We will maintain liaison with the department concerned and continue to monitor the situation,' a spokesman said.
Unwanted construction waste from tunnels for the Hong Kong-Guangzhou rail project will total, in cubic metres: 9m