DEVELOPERS who fail to assess the environmental impact of their projects or take measures to minimise it could face hefty fines and jail under legislation to be introduced next year. The Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance would place a heavy fine on offenders, probably in excess of current penalties for polluting the air or water, principal environmental protection officer Elvis Au Wai-kwong said yesterday. Mr Au would not give a specific figure, but air and water polluters face a maximum $200,000 fine plus six months' jail. The ordinance is intended to stop pollution before it starts by requiring developers to adjust their plans in the early stages. Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are already done for a number of large projects. The Government automatically requires them for its projects, but they are not required by law for the private sector. Even when they are carried out, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has no legal authority to enforce measures recommended in the reports. Instead, it must work through contract conditions or land leases - a process Mr Au said could be lengthy and complicated. For instance, dust from the West Kowloon reclamation has been a problem for residents but the EPD cannot act directly to control it. It must rely on the West Kowloon site manager, who negotiates with the contractors to get them to spray water on the dust, as stipulated in the works contract. Another case is the Shalotung golf course proposal, which would affect an important ecological area. Without the ordinance, land lease conditions would have to be used to ensure protection of the area - but could take years to enforce if something went wrong. Principal environmental protection officer Shirley Lee Sau-ling said they had had some difficulties in the past from private developers not carrying out mitigation measures. ''We don't have any power to make them do EIAs. Instead, we have to persuade them, and that's not ideal,'' she said. Under the proposed ordinance, anyone not carrying out an assessment or failing to implement mitigation measures would be prosecuted, and it is likely they would be charged if the Government has to repair any damage. Mr Au said: ''We're doing something quite different from other countries. They just require EIAs. We're going further to ensure proper implementation of the EIA findings.'' Ms Lee said they did not expect the requirements would add much to developers' costs. A number of projects, such as power stations, already had EIAs done. Government projects require EIAs and they have been used in some instances to stop or alter plans. For example, a plan to dredge Mirs Bay was halted because of the impact on marine life, while the dredging of the East Lamma Channel was significantly reduced for the same reason. The law proposal is with the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch and there will be consultation with interested parties before it goes to the Legislative Council, possibly next year.