Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)1148/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Friday, 5 February 1999, at 10:00 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon LAU Kong-wah

Non-Panel member attending :

Hon NG Leung-sing

Members absent :

Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Bernard CHAN
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Public officers attending :

Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Mr LAU Kwok-choi
Principal Assistant Secretary for Works
(Policy & Development)

Acting Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer
Civil Engineering Department

Government Geotechnical Engineer (Development)
Civil Engineering Department

Senior Geotechnical Engineer (Marine Disposal)
Civil Engineering Department

Dr Malcolm BROOM
Principal Environmental Protection Officer
(Water Policy and Planning)
Environmental Protection Department

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(1)755/98-99)

The minutes of meeting held on 6 November 1998 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items proposed by the Administration at the next regular Panel meeting on 5 March 1999 at 8:30 am -

  1. Proposal to make the management of a body corporate criminally liable for violation of the Noise Control Ordinance; and

  2. The work programme for developing environmental policy.

3. In view of the Easter holidays, the Chairman suggested and members agreed to advance the April meeting to 29 March 1999 at 10:45 am. Members also agreed to continue holding the regular Panel meetings on the first Friday of each month for the period from May to July 1999.

III Information papers issued since last meeting
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1)805, 812, 826 and 844/98-99)

4. Members noted the following information papers issued since the last meeting -

  1. LC Paper No. CB(1)805/98-99 - Proposed amendments to the Air Pollution Control (Motor Vehicle Fuel) Regulation;

  2. LC Paper No. CB(1)812/98-99 - Submission from Friends of the Earth on the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme Stage II;

  3. LC Paper No. CB(1)826/98-99 - Proposal to create a post of Principal Environmental Protection Officer to head a new Housing Supply Group in the Environmental Protection Department; and

  4. LC Paper No. CB(1)844/98-99 - Report on the progress of the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Liaison Group Work Programme.

IV Monitoring of new uncontaminated mud disposal sites at Tsing Yi, Lantau and Tung Lung Chau
(LC Paper No. CB(1)834/98-99(01))

5. The Chairman briefed members on the background leading to the discussion of this item. She said that the funding application for the proposed project was submitted to the Finance Committee (FC) on 15 January 1999. Noting that the proposal had not been discussed by the Panel, FC referred this back to the Panel for consideration. To avoid a waste of time in considering financial proposals in future, the Chairman reminded the Administration to brief the Panel before seeking funding from FC on any proposal which would have an environmental impact.

6. The Chairman drew members' attention to a submission from the Sai Kung Provisional District Board (SKPDB) which was tabled at the meeting. (A copy of the submission was circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)876/98-99.) Members noted the objection of SKPDB to the proposed backfilling of uncontaminated mud at east of Tung Lung Chau. As the Administration was aware of SKPDB's objection to the proposal, the Chairman expressed regret that this had not been brought to members' attention.

7. The Acting Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer, Civil Engineering Department (Ag PGGE) said that the Administration accepted the criticism of FC members regarding the content of the FC paper which should contain more information on the background to the proposed project. Additional information to address concerns about the environmental impact of backfilling operations had been provided in the paper submitted to the Panel. Ag PGGE said that backfilling of exhausted marine borrow pits had been planned for ever since the Administration first proposed to use marine fill on a large scale to enable the implementation of construction works under the Airport Core Programme. The marine borrow areas at the three sites in question were gazetted for dredging for obtaining fill for these works and then for backfilling afterwards. The reason behind this plan was that backfilling not only provided an economical alternative for the disposal of uncontaminated mud, it was also preferable to open sea floor disposal either in Hong Kong waters or in neighbouring Mainland waters. Besides, backfilling would reinstate the seabed to the original conditions existed before sand dredging. That was desirable for several reasons. When some of these areas were chosen for marine borrow pits, the Director of Marine specifically requested that the potential anchorage capacity of the harbour be reinstated for routine and emergency anchorage of ships. Backfilling could be carried out in a manner which would not adversely affect the environment if adequate controls were provided. Monitoring was required to ensure compliance with the Water Quality Objectives. The Administration noted members' concern about the costs for the monitoring programme. These monitoring costs, which averaged about $0.38 per cubic metre of mud disposed of, were small when compared to the costs for dredging and placing the mud. The Advisory Council on the Environment had endorsed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Studies. Representatives of capture fisheries and mariculture industries had been consulted and they had not raised objection to the project. Some even indicated their support in writing. Some members of SKPDB raised concern about the environmental impact of backfilling and the ability of the Administration to exercise adequate control. The Administration undertook to take SKPDB members to the Tung Lung Chau site to observe a mud disposal trial in late March 1999. Ag PGGE stressed that the funding was intended for three areas, not for Tung Lung Chau alone. There was no intention on the part of the Administration to proceed with backfilling operations at Tung Lung Chau before SKPDB members had a chance to observe the trial and to further discuss the issue. If the trial did not succeed in demonstrating that backfilling in Tung Lung Chau could be done in an environmentally acceptable manner, the Administration would not proceed to backfill that area.

Consultation with SKPDB

8. Mr CHAN Wing-chan queried why the FC paper requesting funding for the monitoring programme had not mentioned the objection of SKPDB. His concern was shared by Mr LAU Kong-wah who criticised that the Administration had deliberately downplayed the objection raised by SKPDB and the fishing community.

9. In response, Ag PGGE said that the Administration noted the concern of SKPDB members about backfilling. To allay their concern, the Administration agreed to carry out a trial of the backfilling operations at Tung Lung Chau. He emphasized that the Administration had no intent to rush through the backfilling project. If necessary, further consultation on the aspect of capture fisheries would be conducted. The Administration was prepared to split the funding application in respect of the three sites because there were no controversial issues on the other two sites. The Government Geotechnical Engineer (GGE) supplemented that there was ongoing dialogue with SKPDB members regarding their reservations about the proposed back-filling at Tung Lung Chau. He admitted that SKPDB's reservation could have been reflected more clearly in the FC paper and he apologized for any misunderstanding which might have been caused.

Concerns raised by the fishing community

10. Mr WONG Yung-kan declared interest as a member of the Capture Fisheries Subcommittee and the Chairman of the Aquaculture Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries. Mr WONG said that since 1993 the Aquaculture Subcommittee had been objecting against marine dredging activities. However, in view of the need for implementation of public works and the subsequent granting of ex gratia compensation to fishermen, the matter had not been further pursued. At a recent meeting of the Aquaculture Subcommittee when the subject of backfilling was discussed, members raised the following points -

  1. Before proceeding with any dredging or backfilling activities in any area, the Administration must assess their impact on the marine ecology, water quality and fisheries;

  2. An abundance of fishes was found in the area around the exhausted marine borrow pits at Ninepins which were dredged for sand fill some four years ago. These included fish species which were not seen previously in the area. This phenomenon was possibly attributed to the fact that empty pits provided the necessary spaces and the spawning grounds for new species;

  3. The backfilling of borrowing pits would disturb the marine ecology and affect the capture fisheries in the area. The livelihood of fishermen would be seriously affected during the backfilling which would last for several years;

  4. Compared to dredging, backfilling was more destructive to the marine environment since mud from other areas was dumped at the sea floor; and

  5. The Tung Lung Chau mariculturists had no choice but to accept the proposed project. All they could do was to urge the Administration to take measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the proposed backfilling. The Administration, however, considered this as an indication of support for the project.

Pros and cons of backfilling

11. In response, GGE said that EIA studies had been carried out to determine the acceptability of using the empty seabed pits for disposal of uncontaminated mud. These studies concluded that backfilling of these sites would restore the natural marine environment and would result in the recolonisation of the seabed by benthic communities similar to those which existed prior to sand dredging. Backfilling was beneficial in the long run to the capture fisheries although the backfilling process would cause localised and temporary disturbance to the marine environment. GGE clarified that fishes in abundance around the empty pits were not observed during the course of EIA studies. However, the Administration would take a closer look at this issue. If the empty pits were found to be conducive to fisheries, the Administration would reconsider the backfilling proposal. Senior Geotechnical Engineer, Civil Engineering Department supplemented that the EIA study at Tung Lung Chau was completed in March 1998. The assessment of fisheries impact had taken account of the latest data on capture fisheries collected by Agriculture and Fisheries Department in a territory-wide research on fisheries resources.

12. Mr WONG Yung-kan said that in the absence of information on conditions existed prior to sand dredging, the findings of the research done by Agriculture and Fisheries Department could not provide meaningful information for comparison. Mr LAU Kong-wah opined that the information on capture fisheries provided by the Administration might be academic assessments that had not taken account of the actual situation.

13. GGE disagreed that the EIA studies were academic assessments. He said that the findings of the studies were derived from analysis of the data collected and were made available for public inspection. The purpose of implementing an environmental monitoring and audit programme during backfilling was to verify the predicted results of the EIA studies.

14. Responding to Mr CHAN Wing-chan's enquiry on the benefits of backfilling, GGE said that backfilling would restore the natural hydrodynamic regime, enable recolonisation of seabed by benthic communities similar to those which existed prior to sand dredging, and restore routine and emergency ship anchorage areas.

15. Mr WONG Yung-kan pointed out that because of the geographical location of Tung Lung Chau, the area was not suitable for ship anchorage after the backfilling operations during north-east monsoon. He criticised the Administration for using this as an excuse for backfilling.

16. Mr LAU Kong-wah said that there was conflicting opinion on the desirability of backfilling. In his view, it was better to preserve the natural environment and maintain environmental balance. Any disruption to the seabed would be detrimental to the marine ecology. During the process of backfilling, the fisheries industry would inevitably be affected. He sought information on the disadvantages of not backfilling the empty pits.

17. In response, GGE advised that empty borrow pits were constantly being eroded by ocean currents. As a result, the seabed environment was subject to unstable conditions which were not favourable for recolonization of the benthic community. The EIA studies indicated that the empty borrow pits did not provide a stable environment for the growth of soft bottom benthic organisms which were a source of food supply for fishes. He assured members that if monitored properly, the proposed backfilling operations would not have any adverse impact on the marine ecology in the vicinity of the pits.

18. Mr NG Leung-sing shared Mr WONG Yung-kan's view that the impacts of dredging and backfilling could not be ascertained unless a prior survey had been done to collect the baseline information on the marine environment. He doubted the benefits of backfilling to the growth of fisheries as the mud disposed of was not part of the marine habitat. He was concerned if the monitoring programme could accurately assess the impact of disposal of uncontaminated mud on the marine ecology. Mr CHAN Wing-chan said that the Administration should work out how the situation would be dealt with should it be found during the monitoring process that the disposal of uncontaminated mud did have an adverse effect on the water quality.

19. Mrs Sophie LEUNG said that both dredging and backfilling would be disruptive to the marine ecology. She did not accept that levelling of the empty pits through backfilling would stabilize the seabed. She called on the Administration to come up with better options to stabilize the seabed for coral growth, such as depositing large, odd-shaped rocks and making use of sunken vessels, which would provide habitat for fishes.

20. Professor NG Ching-fai questioned whether the results of the EIA study at south of Tsing Yi and north of Lantau were applicable to Tung Lung Chau. Since the study on Tsing Yi and Lantau were done almost three years ago, he was concerned that the findings might not reflect the present situation. Prof NG sought information on the composition of the team responsible for the EIA studies, in particular whether the team included marine ecologists.

21. GGE said that in view of the observations made by Mr WONG Yung-kan and the fishing community on capture fisheries around empty borrow pits, the Administration would re-examine the situation and advise members of the results.

22. In view of time constraints, the Chairman suggested and the Administration agreed to provide written response to address the concerns and questions raised by members. The Chairman said that since a lot of issues remained unresolved, it would not be appropriate for the Administration to re-submit the backfilling proposals to FC at this stage. However, the Administration might consider submitting separate funding applications for the monitoring of the three new uncontaminated mud disposal sites. Admin.

V Any other business

23. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:45 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
19 April 1999