Government says it did not have time to check extent of contamination Government officials yesterday admitted for the first time they had to rush to buy a heavily polluted shipyard for the Disney project before they could determine the full extent of the contamination at the site. 'The project needs to be completed as soon as possible and an important element of the project was the need to resume the shipyard site to allow the other works to proceed,' Director of Lands Patrick Lau Lai-chiu said when legislators asked why taxpayers were forced to pay $440 million to clean up a dioxin-contaminated plant. 'Therefore the Lands Department considered that there was a need to resume the land as soon as possible, otherwise the other works would be held up.' He added that because the Disney project would bring massive economic benefits, the government considered its construction a top priority. The government bought the Cheoy Lee shipyard site at Penny's Bay on Lantau in April 2001 for $1.5 billion to build access roads to the Disney theme park, which is scheduled to open in 2005 or 2006. The cleanup was originally expected to cost $22 million but after extensive site examination, decontamination costs shot up to $440 million. Legislators said yesterday a consultant hired by the government highlighted possible extensive contamination before it bought the site, but it went ahead with the deal anyway. The legislators made the criticisms at a Legco Public Accounts Committee meeting on the latest government auditor's report, which lashed out at the huge cleanup cost. Legislator Lau Kong-wah, of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, said at least two legislators raised questions about the contamination as early as January and March 2000. Director of Civil Engineering Tsao Tak-kiang said that while officials were aware of the consultant's findings, the lease conditions did not allow the government to conduct a detailed site inspection before the land was resumed. Mr Tsao said the shipyard operator only allowed them to conduct a limited test in early 2001, when only surface contamination was found. But a detailed investigation carried out later revealed that about 30,000 cubic metres of soil were contaminated with cancer-causing dioxins. Emily Lau Wai-hing, of The Frontier, said: 'The matter could have been handled in a better way.'