ONLY after Lachmi Butani heard the helicopters swooping down the valley outside her luxury house nestled on Fei Ngo Shan Road did she get the first hint her life was about to change. Dangling from them were girders for the massive 400 kilovolt high voltage power lines China Light and Power (CLP) was erecting to link Black Point Power station in western Kowloon to Tseung Kwan O in the east. Ms Butani alerted her neighbours and within days they formed the Black Point Routing Objection Association. Their mandate was to stop CLP through any legal means they could find. Most citizen action groups in Hong Kong sputter, grumble, complain and then, in time, crumble. CLP was banking on this happening with the newly-formed group, according to the residents. But as each day passes this band of angry residents becomes more entrenched. And their profile in Hong Kong is growing. Something CLP perhaps did not count on was the emotive issues driving the Black Point Association. Residents complained loudly of the health risks and cancers allegedly caused by electro magnetic fields, EMFs in their jargon, which they say are generated by the power lines. Scenarios of high voltage pylons toppling in typhoons were vividly described to anyone willing to listen. 'It's many things, but mainly it's health, it is environment and it's how they snuck this plan past us,' said Ms Butani, pointing to the pylons in the valley below her. But Ms Butani, whose house is valued at $45 million in a neighbourhood where some residents value their properties at more than $100 million, neglected to mention another, major concern: real estate. The battle between CLP and the residents' group has been one of open and hidden agendas. Health, environment and the Government's approval system are the open issues, the ones which are trotted in front of the Legislative Council and the media. But residents are reluctant to talk at length about another factor: how the bottom will drop out of their real estate market. It is much easier to raise the public's ire and support with stories of children dying from leukaemia, than it is to elicit sympathy for plummeting house prices. 'I've never heard such a load of crap. It's my children I care about, not my house,' said one infuriated resident when questioned about this aspect of the controversy. 'This is a classic David and Goliath story, and as far as we are concerned the story will have the same ending.' But David is not only collecting stones, he is shining them for media presentation. And they're not small stones which are lying in his palm. Heading the Black Point residents is a cadre of lawyers and engineers who live in the affected Clear Water Bay area. They have freely given their time and expertise to fight CLP at every turn. 'People have been working very hard on this,' Black Point chairman, Jim O'Shea said. 'Many of us are professionals such as doctors and lawyers and we have good contacts. 'We have been ringing around the world to try and get information on the health risks of this project.' CLP senior officers say they realise this group has no intention of rolling over and giving up. Too much is at stake. And despite the residents' public claims otherwise, privately they admit that estate and property value is one of the prime issues. 'We have all given our time to fight this, because it is something we feel very passionately about,' John Glass, a solicitor with three children, who is renting a flat in the area, said. 'I'm not convinced it is safe to stay here. If this goes through I leave.' The landlords of tenants like Mr Glass are scrambling to soothe the feathers of those who look as if they are about to fly the roost. 'We've been getting calls ever since this group got together,' said a Hong Kong real estate agent who asked not to be named. 'If you want my opinion, they are cutting their own throat by talking about this. No one wants to move in there now. 'Hey, this is Hong Kong and we all put up with troubles. You think the people in Mid-Levels are happy with the noise they have to put up with? The best thing those Clear Water Bay people can do is shut up.' But they have no intention of shutting up. Too much is at stake. It was the noisy claims of cancers and leukaemias which caught the attention of Legco and this week the council's health panel examined the issue. The link between EMF's and cancer has never been proved. But even CLP's scientists have acknowledged it took researchers 40 years to establish a definitive link between smoking and lung cancer. The Black Point battle has turned into a duel of research papers. For every study the Black Point group slaps on the table, CLP matches with one or two of their own. First it was Swedish doctors versus the Russians. Then the Russian research was shot down by more recent work done in the United States. There is no proof one way or the other. Legco environment panel chairman, Peter Wong Hong-yuen sees the conflict from both sides. He says he is not impressed by the process through which CLP won government approval for the project, but he also sees that money is a major part of the association's agenda. 'Unfortunately, that's the nature of Hong Kong. You don't pipe up until it hurts your pocket-book,' Mr Wong said. 'That doesn't mean I agree with CLP. These people were not given proper notice. I looked at the issue and I don't really think there was proper consultation. 'What on earth were the Government and district boards doing when they approved this?' If money is at the heart of the debate, then potentially millions could have been saved by both sides if a more open public consultation had taken place. CLP maintains it informed the public through written notices and district board meetings. The residents say the first notice they had was the helicopters. The Government gave final approval to the project in March last year. CLP was waiting and ready with helicopters and work crews. What the Black Point residents want is for the entire $80 million section of the pipeline to be re-routed through neighbouring Ma On Shan country park. The visual and health impacts would be the same, but only for those hikers passing by. It is a classic case of NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard-syndrome). The residents' proposed route would go through a designated area of special scientific interest. The proposal has already been rejected by environmentalists. 'They could put them underground,' Ms Butani said. 'Put them anywhere as long as we don't have to see them. We didn't buy here so that we could look at something like that. 'According to our Chinese neighbours these are very bad fung shui. We will never be able to sell this place.' According to a CLP document the laying of 400 kilovolt underground transmission lines will involve a 'sterilised' area the width of a six-lane highway. The estimated cost would be between 30 and 40 times more than an overland route. 'Any future changes are in the hands of the Government,' CLP spokesperson, Katherine Ma said. 'If this project is to be reconsidered the Government will make the changes and CLP will respond accordingly. CLP went through all the proper channels. We consulted with green groups, the district board and placed ads in newspapers.' The association has said it will fight CLP in the courts. Some have even whispered of more drastic and subversive action. Yesterday, the Government admitted it is re-examining the entire issue. So who will win? A handful of residents or CLP? Ms Butani, standing on her roof-top patio with views interrupted only by power lines arcing across the valley, sighs and says: 'We bought here eight years ago and were told the valley would be undisturbed. It's like Vietnam with the helicopters out there now.'