Para. 49 - Progress of the work of the Task Force (Black Spots)
3. The Chairman informed the meeting that the Secretariat was liaising with the Task Force (Black Spots) for an update of its work and would inform the Council of the outcome in due course.
Agenda Item 3 : Report of the 66th and 67th Meetings of the Environmental Impact Assessment Subcommittee
(ACE Paper 5/2002)
4. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman reported that the Subcommittee had considered by circulation the EIA report on the Widening of the Yuen Long Highway between Lam Tei and Shap Pat Heung Interchange and recommended it for endorsement without conditions. The meeting endorsed the EIA report as recommended by the Subcommittee without conditions.
5. The Deputy EIA Subcommittee Chairman, who chaired the discussion on the EIA report on Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line - Tunnel/Viaduct Option, summarized the Subcommittee's comments and deliberations on the EIA report in three areas, viz. impacts arising from tunneling in Long Valley, ecological impacts on Lok Ma Chau and project management.
6. Members briefly outlined their concerns on the project before inviting the project proponent to join the meeting. A Member said that she would request the project proponent to clarify the proposed action plan should there be changes in the groundwater regime or surface settlement and how the action plan would be monitored.
7. A Member said that the project proponent had failed to demonstrate in the EIA report that the project would not result in net loss in wetland functions and that there would not be residual adverse impacts. Another Member pointed out that it was not clear whether it was possible to demonstrate that the reduced number of fishponds, though enhanced, would have any adverse impact on the number of waterbirds in the region.
8. A Member informed Members that at the Subcommittee meetings Members also raised concern over the scientific basis of the proposed enhancement measures but that it was agreed that there could not be 100% proof on ecological issues. Therefore it would be important for the Council to be consulted on the draft Environmental Monitoring & Audit (EM&A) Manual to ensure that there would be an effective monitoring programme and contingency plan.
9. A Member considered that whether the EIA report was acceptable hinged on whether the project proponent could demonstrate that, in the end, there would be no net loss in wetland functions. The commercial fishponds at Lok Ma Chau were artificial wetland with relatively lower ecological value compared to natural wetland. Although there could never be a guarantee for the enhancement programme, similar measures were proved successful overseas. He believed that those measures had a high chance of success.
10. A Member commented that he was not sure about the recommendation of the Subcommittee and asked whether it could clarify its recommendation to the Council. If the recommendation was to endorse the report with conditions, the discussion with the project proponent should focus on the conditions to address the concerns of the Subcommittee. If it was not to endorse the report, then it would be for the project proponent to convince the Council on the environmental acceptability of the EIA report, in particular the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures that seemed to be the main concern.
11. The Deputy EIA Subcommittee Chairman informed the meeting that despite a few Members' reservations, the Subcommittee in general reckoned that there was a good chance that the anticipated results of the proposed enhancement measures specified in the EIA report would be achieved but conditions should be imposed to ensure that in case of failure, further measures would be taken to make up for any net loss in ecological functions arising from the loss of fishponds at Lok Ma Chau. A Member confirmed that that was the sentiment of the Subcommittee after thorough discussion of the EIA report.
[The project proponent team was invited to join the meeting at this juncture.]
12. The Chairman welcomed the presentation team to the meeting. He invited them to brief Members on two major issues, i.e. the contingency plan related to tunneling in Long Valley and the compensation for the loss of fishponds at Lok Ma Chau.
13. D2/AEC made use of a short video to demonstrate the result of the preliminary management measures in fishponds at Lok Ma Chau. SD(CP)/KCRC pointed out that by implementing only part of the proposed enhancement measures, the results already showed great success in attracting waterbirds to the enhanced ponds. Hence, they had full confidence in the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation programme.
Tunneling in Long Valley
14. A Member sought clarification on the piezometer readings that would trigger proposed actions in the EIA report to restore the groundwater level in Long Valley. She was concerned whether there would be sufficient settlement markers installed across Long Valley for the purpose of groundwater table and surface settlement monitoring. She also enquired about the design acceptance criteria for surface settlement.
15. In response, Consultant/BBV explained that to identify the low threshold of groundwater table, 21 piezometers were installed across Long Valley in Autumn 2001. When the water level reached 500mm above the low threshold, they would conduct more rigorous monitoring and gear up for actions. When the water level reached 300mm above the low threshold, they would start diverting more flow from the existing irrigation system into Long Valley. An ultimate fallback action would be to raise the downstream fabridam operated by Water Services Department to temporarily create the effect of a standing high tide. The high tide position would be held for 24 hours whilst they would keep on monitoring the piezometer readings. SD(CP)/KCRC supplemented that according to the computer modeling, a case requiring the fallback action was highly unlikely.
16. Regarding settlement monitoring, EM/KCRC informed the meeting that settlement markers would be installed at about 20m intervals across Long Valley. The design acceptance criterion was 40mm settlement at maximum and actions would be taken when the level reached 15mm. The recorded settlement level for the West Rail tunnel was 16mm and it was not expected that in adopting the same tunneling method the present project would exceed that level.
17. A Member asked whether the monitoring data could be made available to the public on a specified website. SD(CP)/KCRC replied that they were happy to provide any information that the public might require and would discuss with EPD on how best that could be done.
Compensation at Lok Ma Chau
18. The Chairman asked whether the project proponent was able to find an area to compensate for the loss of 9.1ha of fishponds at Lok Ma Chau. If not, how the Council could be assured of the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures.
19. In response, SD(CP)/KCRC said that they had to resort to compensation by enhancement because there was no suitable land available at the Lok Ma Chau area to re-create the fishponds lost. Under the terms of the environmental permit, KCRC would be fully responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of the proposed mitigations both during construction and operation of the railway.
20. A Member commented that upon the unification with the Mainland, all documents should be made available in both Chinese and English as far as practicable. Regarding the EIA report, he suggested that in order to ensure sufficient supply of fish for the mitigated fishponds, the project proponent might consider acquiring fish from factory farming which was a more reliable source. He expressed concern that if the enhancement measures eventually became so successful that an unexpected large number of waterbirds were attracted to the Deep Bay area from neighboring countries, it might create hygiene problems among the avi-fauna groups.
21. In response to that Member's comments regarding bilingual papers/reports, the Chairman said that the provision of papers/reports in both English and Chinese would involve a higher cost and might delay their issue. The justification had to be fully demonstrated
22. SD(CP)/KCRC informed Members that except for the Executive Summary, they were not aware of the need to produce other parts of the EIA report in both English and Chinese. Nonetheless, they would make available a Chinese version if Members so requested in advance in future. Regarding the mitigation measures, EM/KCRC said that they intended to create a sustainable fisheries system at the enhanced fishponds by initially stocking in spring and producing fish throughout summer. Therefore it was not necessary to acquire fish from outside sources. Regarding the balance in bird number, they would adopt a management regime to achieve the anticipated number of birds. The regime would be refined through experience as the mitigation works were in progress. Although it might be undesirable to attract too many birds to the territory, it would not be undesirable if the population of endangered species like Black-faced Spoonbill increased.
23. Noting that the report did not mention the quantity of fish that would be required to support the waterbirds, a Member asked how the proponent could create a sustainable system without such data. In reply, D1/AEC explained that there was no specific target fish biomass for each pond but they would continue to adjust the initial stocking according to the number of birds visiting to ensure successful application of the enhancement measures. Instead of an absolute number, they would use the proportion of birds that the enhanced ponds supported in comparison with the commercial fishponds as a whole as the basis for monitoring. SD(CP)/KCRC supplemented that the baseline data would be included in the Habitat Creation Management Plan which would be incorporated in the EM&A Manual to be compiled later.
24. A Member doubted whether the proposed measures would be sustainable throughout the winter because the birds might consume all the fish within a few days after the drain-down. Unless the fishponds were re-stocked, the number of birds would decrease following a reduction of food in the feeding ground. In response, D1/AEC informed the meeting that the preliminary management measures as shown in the video involved only one stocking event prior to drain-down. Despite that, a large number of birds were found at the fishponds throughout the two months. The project proponent did not think that multiple stocking was necessary to retain birds in the area since commercial fishponds were drained down only once in winter for harvesting. The merits of the enhanced fishponds were that the fish were reared for bird feeding instead of for human consumption and that the ponds were re-profiled to create a more favourable environment for wildlife.
25. The Chairman enquired about the number of kilojoules produced by the fishponds per hectare of pond and the percentage left for birds. In reply, D1/AEC said that on average about 11% of fish produced in a commercial fishpond would be left for consumption by birds. That said, the Fishpond Study indicated that energy level was not a very helpful measure for carrying capacity. He then quoted from paragraph 5.3.5 of page 48 of the Study report that "Due to the complexities of studying theoretical carrying capacity, most studies measure the realized rather than potential carrying capacity. Instead of identifying the potential carrying capacity, it is more realistic to measure the number of birds actually supported by the area".
26. Referring to the adoption of bird number as a measurement of the effectiveness of the proposed enhancement measures, a Member requested the proponent to demonstrate the effectiveness on a regular basis (e.g. daily) instead of over a certain period of time. He also enquired about the fallback action in case of failure of those measures to deliver specified results.
27. In response to that Member's enquiry, D1/AEC clarified that they would ensure that the enhanced ponds as a whole would meet the enhancement value throughout the year. Regarding the fallback action, SD(CP)/KCRC said that they had full confidence in the proposed measures. Under the environmental permit, KCRC would be required to carry out further mitigations to compensate for the loss if the proposed measures failed.
28. In response to Miss Alex Yau's question, D1/AEC explained that the number of bird-days per pond was a mean number collected by an observer who counted the bird numbers on a specified fishpond ten times a day from a tower overseeing the ponds. The baseline data was presented in the Appendices of the EIA report which included the number of birds in the study area and San Tin during the twelve-month baseline survey. They would continue to compare the bird numbers at commercial fishponds as the control figures because external factors might affect the total number of birds in Deep Bay area. In response to the enquiry of the Chairman, AD(Conservation)/AFCD said that comparing the number of bird-days per pond at the mitigated area with the commercial fishponds was considered acceptable.
29. Referring to the experience in the consultation group of the West Rail project, Miss Yau commented that an accurate set of baseline data was crucial for an effective monitoring programme. She disagreed with the adoption of the bird number as the unit of measurement because it could not reflect that, in case of a drop in the number of birds in the whole Deep Bay area, the effect was solely arising from the loss of 9.1ha of fishponds. Given the various factors that might affect the bird number, one could never demonstrate the failure of the enhancement measures. A Member said that there were too many factors that would affect the number of birds in a wetland habitat. He asked whether there were other baseline data that would provide useful reference regarding the impact of the loss of the fishponds as well as the proposed enhancement measures.
30. In response, D1/AEC informed the meeting that the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society collected data on the number of waterbirds in the Deep Bay area on a monthly basis for the last ten years. Periodically, AFCD also sponsored various studies relating to certain avi-fauna groups, in particular Black-faced Spoonbill.
31. Noting that some enhancement measures would be carried out in advance of the construction work of the project, a Member asked whether the proposed Environmental Committee could be set up earlier to advise on the management programme as well as to monitor its progress. In reply, SD(CP)/KCRC said that they intended to set up the Environmental Committee the soonest upon the issue of the environmental permit.
[The project proponent team retired from the conference room at this juncture.]
32. In response to the Chairman's question, a Member confirmed that she was satisfied with the contingency plan as proposed in the EIA report and presented by the project proponent at the meeting.
33. The Chairman asked whether Members were prepared to accept the report subject to the conditions set out in ACE Paper 5/2002.
34. A Member asked whether the conditions proposed in the ACE paper were legally allowable and practicably enforceable. In response, DEP said that in terms of the EIA Ordinance, he had no problem with condition (a). As for condition (b), it was possible to require the project proponent to implement further compensation measures but he had strong reservations on whether he was legally empowered to require the proponent specifically to acquire additional land to compensate for the loss.
35. The Chairman appreciated the limitation of the authority of DEP in requiring a project proponent to acquire additional land for mitigation purpose but that should not be ruled out as one of the possible options. In response, DEP explained that it was not necessary for the Council to be bothered with the detailed wording of the conditions. Based on the advice of the Council, he would include conditions which were practicable and enforceable.
36. Miss Yau considered that the project proponent had failed to comply with the requirements of the Technical Memorandum (TM) on the EIA Process. She referred to Section 5.4.5(d) of Annex 16 of the TM which stated that "...or the project proponent shall demonstrate that the same kind of ecological function and capacity can be achieved through the measures to compensate for the ecological impacts." She felt that the definition of "ecological function" or "carrying capacity" of the fishponds as provided by the project proponent was too narrow. As she had explained in her letter to Members, even if the definition was acceptable, the unit for measuring the effectiveness of the mitigation measures (i.e. the number of bird-days per pond) was not an accurate or reliable indicator. Based on all the related literature she had reviewed, there had never been a case in which the biodiversity and ecological functions of a habitat had not been adversely affected by the loss of physical area.
37. In response to Miss Yau's remarks on the proposed mitigation measures, a Member commented that science involved trial and error and the Council should be fair to the project proponent. He believed that the proposed measures would have a high chance of success. He disagreed with the conclusion made by Miss Yau in her letter in which she on one hand disapproved the project proponent's measures for the reason that it was "at best guesswork", yet on the other hand made her own "guess" that the overall ecological functions and the capacity of the fishpond habitats in Deep Bay would be reduced. He also doubted that "the Mai Po management plans have not set any targets/objectives to enhance or double the 'ecological function and capacity' of the habitats within the Reserve." He was of the view that one of the objectives of the management of Mai Po Nature Reserve was to enhance the habitats for wildlife.
38. A Member agreed with that Member's comments above and said that, for the benefits of the economic development of Hong Kong, essential projects like the Spur Line should be supported on balanced interests.
39. A Member said that setting aside the unit for measuring the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures which was still debatable among the specialists, the project proponent had neglected the mitigation for other species like Eurasian Otter. That gave him an impression that the proponent would only implement mitigation measures for selected species which were easy to manipulate.
40. In response to the remark that the number of bird-days per pond was not an accurate or reliable indicator, AD(Conservation)/AFCD said that Appendix A4.2 of the EIA report provided a wide range of ecological attributes, in addition to the abundance of birds, that would be measured in the ecological monitoring proposal. Page 4-92 of the report also stated the fish type and size for the target avi-fauna as one of the indicators to be adopted in the monitoring program.
41. A Member said that he could understand Miss Yau's position on the EIA report. It seemed that the problems rested on whether the report provided sufficient scientific evidence to support its conclusions and whether there were appropriate indicators for measuring the effectiveness of the proposed measures. He reckoned that those questions were still open to debate among scientists and were too technical for the Council to dwell on. Therefore it was important to impose conditions to strengthen the safety factor in case the mitigation measures failed. The track record of the project proponent in handling the West Rail project had led to doubts on its capability and commitment and its contractors in properly managing the enhanced fishponds. He suggested that conditions should be imposed to enhance the quality of management in that regard.
42. In response to a Member's enquiry, DEP said that the authority had received 86 sets of public comments on the EIA report.
43. The Chairman sought individual Members' views on the EIA report. The majority of Members indicated that they endorsed the EIA report, and some endorsed it with conditions. Only Miss Alex Yau and another Member did not agree to accept the report for reasons they had stated.
44. A Member said that sufficient resources and expertise should be made available to monitor the population of the waterbirds so that the data could contribute to further studies on wetland system. Two other Members concurred with that Member.
45. A Member cautioned that as the present case would set a precedent for future projects in respect of compensation by ecological function instead of by area, careful thoughts should be exercised on drawing up the proposed conditions. He suggested that the conditions should include the early formation of the Environmental Committee and the compilation of the EM&A programme. He also suggested that the transparency of the monitoring work should be enhanced, for example, by setting up web cams at control points of the mitigated sites and uploading real-time observations onto a specified website. Another Member said that setting up web cams was one of the means which the proponent could adopt but he was of the view that the Council should only provide general comments. The details of the conditions should best be dealt with by DEP.
46. A Member pointed out that it was difficult for the Council to forge a consensus among all Members on the specific terms of the conditions. He suggested that the Council should submit its recommendations/views to DEP in general terms and that individual Members could pass their comments, if any, in writing to DEP through the Chairman. Another Member agreed.
[The project proponent were invited into the conference room at this juncture.]
47. The Chairman informed the project proponent that the majority of Members had agreed to endorse the report and that conditions should be imposed to address the following concerns of the Council:
The project proponent should set up the Environmental Committee before the commencement of the works to advise on and monitor the environmental work of the project. The Committee should have wide representation and be proactive in monitoring the effectiveness of the proposed management measures and ensure that the overall project would result in no net loss in ecological functions of the habitats concerned.
The project proponent should consult the Council on the Environmental Monitoring & Audit Manual to be compiled, and report regularly to the Council on the progress of the monitoring work and the findings. The monitoring plan should be based on baseline data that should be relevant to the project area and updated in line with best practice.
The project proponent should be required to implement further measures to compensate for any net loss of ecological functions resulting from the loss of the fishponds at Lok Ma Chau, if the proposed management measures failed to deliver the specified results.
There should be a high degree of transparency regarding the monitoring data and results in view of the public concern about the project.
48. The Chairman thanked the project proponent for the presentation and discussion and said that the formal advice of the Council would be sent to DEP in due course.
[The project proponent team left the meeting at this juncture.]
49. In response to a Member's comments on the "guesswork", Miss Yau clarified that EIA was a science and she did seriously study and analyze the data to reach her conclusion. As regards Mai Po management, she said that World Wide Fund For Nature Hong Kong (WWFHK) never claimed that they would enhance the carrying capacity of the habitats because there was no way to substantiate the claim.
50. In response to SEF's enquiry, AD(Conservation)/AFCD said that WWFHK did not provide quantitative indicators for measuring "ecological function" or "carrying capacity" of the Mai Po Nature Reserve. AFCD would discuss with WWFHK on how best to manage the Reserve and assess the results achieved.
Agenda Item 5: Long Term Management of Low-Level Radioactive Waste
(ACE Paper 7/2002)
51. The Chairman welcomed PAS(B)2/EFB, AD(WW)/EPD, PEPO(WF)/EPD and SP/D of Health to the meeting. PAS(B)2/EFB briefed Members on the proposal.
52. A Member asked whether there were ways to treat low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) other than storing it. In reply, PAS(B)2/EFB said that most economies adopted the same method as proposed in the paper. A few economies adopted the method of underground burial. However that would require land with suitable geological, seismic and other conditions and such sites were scarce.
53. Noting that the Guangdong City Radioactive Waste Storage Facility (GD City Facility) would take care of ultimate disposal of LLRW, a Member enquired about the kind of treatment they would adopt. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB said that the GD City Facility was only a storage facility. The Mainland authority had not yet come up with an ultimate disposal method.
54. The Chairman commented that Hong Kong should deal with its own toxic waste instead of shifting the responsibility to the Mainland by mere payment of fees. Noting that the major sources of LLRW were from the Hospital Authority and the universities, he asked whether the handling costs of LLRW could be recovered from them. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB said that the Administration was considering the matter and would discuss that in detail with the Finance Bureau.
55. A Member pointed out that the Council endorsed the Environmental Impact and Safety Assessment (EISA) study report on the proposed facility in 1995. However, he also noted that Siu A Chau had high ecological and landscape values, in particular having regard to sightings of dolphins and porpoises, and that the proposal of designating it as a marine park was under consideration. He therefore urged the Administration to pay attention to the footprint of the proposed project, its impact on landscape and the disturbance it might cause during the construction phase. He hoped that the project would not set a precedent for building other unwelcome facilities on Soko Islands.
56. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB explained that the EISA report did recommend measures to mitigate the impacts mentioned by a Member. The facility itself would not impinge on the core area of the proposed marine park but the jetty might encroach the fringe of the park. In view of that, AFCD was working closely with EPD on detailed mitigation measures.