Shifting sands: 'flaws' blamed for problems at artificial island for Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

But Highways Department officials insist problem did not put safety in jeopardy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 September, 2015, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 September, 2015, 3:11am

Highways Department officials have admitted flaws in the reclamation process were the reason part of an artificial island that will house facilities for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge had drifted up to seven metres.

But they insisted that the problem, which involved two circular steel cells each 31 metres in diameter, had been fixed and that safety had not been compromised at the man-made island, which will house immigration facilities for the bridge.

READ MORE: Seven-metre drift on bridge island

The problem, revealed in media reports this week, was the latest controversy for the massive bridge project, which has long been criticised for its huge cost and environmental impact. It led to fears construction on the bridge - already certain to miss its original target of completion by the end of next year - would be delayed further

Peter Lau Ka-keung, director of the department, (pictured) said the movement was due to the use of a modern, more environmentally friendly form of reclamation, being used in the city for the first time. In it, huge steel cells are sunk into the seabed through the marine mud then filled with debris, eliminating the need for dredging.

"We knew last year that this kind of movement had occurred there," Lau said. "According to our assessment … the situation was still safe. It was not some kind of dangerous situation we needed to inform the public of."

Lau said some movement was "expected and normal". But officers spotted problems with two of the 85 steel cells used.

"We found that the contractors had not been able to meet our requirements of filling the cells," Lau said. "So, we asked them to fix it. And they also agreed not to charge us [extra]."

He would not name the contractors, but was satisfied the problem was fixed.

The bridge project was launched in 2011 with an approved budget for the Hong Kong section of HK$30.4 billion, of which about HK$7 billion was for the man-made island.

But last year, the government asked lawmakers for an extra HK$5 billion because of rising costs. The request has not yet been approved by the legislature.

The department had earlier said that a delay to the completion of the bridge was inevitable, but it was still assessing how long completion of the 35km bridge would take.