Experts are concerned that a huge underground complex planned by the Huizhou government in Guangdong will destroy the ecosystem of the city's landmark West Lake.
Huizhou planning and construction authorities have released plans for a two-floor complex covering 20,000 square metres underneath the West Lake, which would be used as a business centre, car park and station for the inter-city rail line connecting Dongguan and Huizhou.
Nearly a tenth of the lake bed would be emptied for at least 18 months during construction, using a cofferdam, a watertight enclosure pumped dry to permit construction work below the waterline.
After that, the Guangzhou Daily reported yesterday, the cofferdam would be removed, allowing the lake to return to its present shape.
Ecologists and experts in underground engineering are divided on the environmental hazards the project could bring to the lake.
A senior engineer who used to work for Guangzhou's Metro said an underground station was better than one above ground because it would not destroy the view of the lake. But it could cost four times as much.
The engineer and Sun Lianpeng, a Guangzhou-based ecologist familiar with the lake, said they believed the ecosystem could recover if the planning bureau and construction bodies drew up good plans.
But Professor Peng Shaolin, an ecologist at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said he was worried about the lake's primary ecological communities, even though the area was only a fraction of the whole lake. 'Each part of the lake has its own primary ecological communities that cannot be recovered once damaged,' he said.
Peng said the Huizhou government should conduct a detailed environmental impact appraisal before starting construction, and extend the duration of the project, giving the ecosystem more time to adapt.
Staff at more than half a dozen provincial and Huizhou government departments, including provincial and city environmental protection bureaus, the city's planning and construction authorities responsible for the plan, and the city's news office, said yesterday they had no idea whether the project had passed an environmental impact appraisal.
'We have never heard about this [underground business centre] project before,' a staff member at the Huizhou Environmental Protection Bureau's environmental impact appraisal division said. A section head at the Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau's propaganda office said it was the first time he had heard of such a project in Huizhou.
The Guangzhou Daily said construction had already started, with earth-moving machinery building the cofferdams in the lake.
Guangdong has announced an aggressive expansion plan for its railway network in the next five years, during which it plans to build about 3,800 kilometres of line.