A senior Airport Authority executive apologised yesterday for what activists described as a deliberate toning down of the proposed third runway's impact on Chinese white dolphins in a public consultation document.
The apology came in a closed meeting on the proposed airport expansion plan, attended by 18 representatives from 13 green groups. However, the groups said the executive should make a public apology for providing misleading information.
Activists accused the authority of manipulating the colours used to show the relative abundance of dolphins around Lantau Island in a map cited in the consultation document. Each square on the map represented an area surveyed and the number of dolphins sighted was reflected in the depth of colour. Between 100 and 200 white dolphins regularly appear in local waters, but the map created the impression that the area had few or no dolphins.
Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said Howard Eng Kiu-chor, executive director of airport operations, apologised several times during the meeting when confronted about the misleading map. Hung was the creator of the original survey map.
'He [Eng] said he would like to apologise if there was anything that made us unhappy and if the public felt they had been misled,' said Hung at a joint press conference of seven of the 13 green groups.
In an official reply, the authority confirmed that its executive had apologised for the 'misunderstanding and confusion' created by the map, which it said aimed to show the distribution of the dolphins.
Apart from Eng, Stanley Hui Hon-chung, Airport Authority chief executive and Wilson Fung Wing-yip, the executive director of corporate development, were also present at the three-hour meeting that discussed wide-ranging issues such as marine ecology and air quality.
The green groups put three demands to the authority: release all relevant information regarding the plan, extend the consultation period beyond three months and disclose the plan's environmental footprint.
The authority refused to extend the September 2 deadline for the consultation, but said it had received valuable feedback and would continue to engage green groups in an open and transparent manner.
Yesterday, the decomposed body of an adult Chinese white dolphin at least 2.2 metres long was found off the coast near Tuen Mun by marine police. The carcass is the fourth found this year. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said a postmortem would be carried out to determine the cause of death. Since 1997, nearly 140 dolphins have been found dead in Hong Kong's waters.