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Advisory Council on the Environment

Report of the 55th Environmental Impact Assessment Subcommittee Meeting (without Appendix 1)

(ACE Paper 26/2000)
For advice

INTRODUCTION

At its meetings on 27 June, 6 and 11 July 2000, the Subcommittee considered the EIA report of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (hereafter referred to as the Project). At the meeting on 27 June, the Subcommittee also received a briefing on the EIA report on Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS) Stage II on an informal basis: this would be presented in a separate paper and reported to the Council in August.

ADVICE SOUGHT

2.Members are invited to advise whether the EIA report of the KCRC Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line should be endorsed.

THE PROJECT

Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line
(ACE-EIA Paper 4/2000)

3.The Project is proposed by KCRC to relieve the envisaged congestion at Lo Wu Boundary Crossing. It was originally part of the West Rail Project recommended under the Railway Development Strategy in 1994. However rapid increase in the patronage of Lo Wu Boundary Crossing in recent years requires the Project to be sped up; it is now pursued as an extension of KCRC East Rail.

4.The key Project requirements are-

  1. to locate the Lok Ma Chau Station to provide a cross boundary rail linkage with the Mainland at the Huanggang and Futian areas;
  2. to provide a convenient connection at Sheung Shui Station for interchanging passengers to and from the Lo Wu line; and
  3. to serve the proposed Kwu Tung Strategic Growth Area.

5.Construction work of the Project is scheduled to start in 2001 for completion in 2004. The Project involves a railway station at Lok Ma Chau and a railway alignment of 7.4 km from Sheung Shui Station to the future Lok Ma Chau Station. At the Lok Ma Chau Station, immigration and customs facilities will be provided.

6.The Director of Environmental Protection (DEP), in consultation with relevant authorities, considers that the EIA report meets the requirements of the EIA Study Brief and the Technical Memorandum (TM) on Environmental Impact Assessment Process. Comments from ACE and the public will be taken into consideration before DEP decides whether or not to approve the EIA report.

Views and Recommendations of EIA Subcommittee Members

7.Subcommittee Members discussed the report at three meetings held on 27 June, 6 and 11 July 2000. The main concerns were the need for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on the impacts of planned or committed projects in the region concerned; the compliance of the EIA report with the requirements stipulated in the EIA Study Brief and the TM; the ecological value of Long Valley; whether the Project proponent had thoroughly studied all possible options with respect to the alignment and method of construction; the area of compensation for wetland loss; the proposed location of Lok Ma Chau Station; the adequacy and effectiveness of ecological mitigation measures; the environmental performance of the West Rail project; and the long-term management plan for the proposed ecological mitigation measures.

Need for Strategic Environmental Assessment

8.EPD advised that the Project was categorized as a Schedule 2 designated project and an EIA was required to be carried out under EIAO. Under Schedule 3 of EIAO, an EIA was required for urban development projects only if the area is more than 20 ha or the population served is more than 100 000. A Schedule 3 EIA for the area concerned was being undertaken by the Territory Development Department and was scheduled for completion in six months' time. On the other hand, an environmental assessment (EA) had already been carried out under the Planning and Development Study of North East New Territories (NENT) which covered Long Valley. The EA of the NENT Study had taken into account future railway developments and other planned or committed projects in the NENT region. The Council was consulted on the EA of the NENT Study at its meeting on 20 December 1999.

Compliance with the EIA Study Brief and TM

9.Some Members of the Subcommittee were doubtful whether the EIA report had complied with the requirements of the EIA Study Brief and the TM. The Subcommittee noted that ecological baseline data with respect to butterflies, dragonflies, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals were only adopted from a literature review of the Ecological Study conducted by ERM in 1999. The literature review indicated that little was known on the occurrence of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals in the study area, in particular in Chau Tau and Lok Ma Chau. In view of the information gap, the EIA Study Brief and the TM would require carrying out necessary field surveys which should last at least six months and covering both wet and dry seasons. The Subcommittee noted that the Project proponent had not conducted such a survey. The Project proponent explained that the records of the faunal groups concerned as reported by ERM were taken primarily from literature and discussions with ecologists who were familiar with the study area. The literature review stated that a number of surveys for these faunal groups had been conducted. While accepting that comparatively speaking these faunal groups were not of as great concern as others such as birds, some members opined that a survey on the reptiles and mammals should have been undertaken.

Ecological value of Long Valley

10.The Project proponent had no dispute over the high conservation value of the habitats in that area. EPD pointed out that Long Valley at present had no statutory conservation status. It was neither designated as a site of conservation importance, nor was the area categorized as a "no-go area" under the TM. The Subcommittee, however, noted from the report of the Second Railway Development Study (RDS-2) Long Valley should be an "absolute constraint" and that arrangements were in hand to revise the Recommended Outline Development Plan of the Long Valley area to rezone it as "Other Specified Uses (Nature Park)". KCRC submitted that the RDS-2 was undertaken on the basis that the existing and committed projects were in place, including the Spur Line.

Alignment Options


(An A3 map showing the alignments will be tabled for reference.)

(a) Northern Route

11. The Project proponent advised that the Northern Route would necessitate the re-alignment of a section of the existing East Rail tracks and would encroach into a substantial part of the Shek Wu Hui Sewage Treatment Works (STW) and the Sheung Shui Slaughter House (SSSH). Drainage Services Department advised that this alignment would seriously compromise the operations of the Shek Wu Hui STW, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department advised that this would considerably affect the operation of the SSSH and hence fresh meat supply to meet the public demand. The two departments considered the impacts unacceptable.

(b) River Beas Route

12.The Project proponent stated that the River Beas Route would also be constrained by the Shek Wu Hui STW and the SSSH. Since the southbound track for this Route would cross the existing tracks of the East Rail, it must be built as a viaduct, necessitating a bridge with a span of approximately 250 meters to be built. However, two trunk sewer inlet pipes to the Shek Wu Hui STW, a leachate pipe from the NENT Landfill and the delivery sidings to the SSSH had taken up all the available space between the railway and the STW, making it impossible to construct the viaduct support column foundations.

(c) Southern Route 1

13.The southbound track of the Spur Line would clash with the Po Shek Wu Road Bridge over the East Rail. As a result, the Po Shek Wu Road Bridge would have to be demolished and reconstructed with an increased height of eight metres. This would in turn necessitate reconstruction of a number of connecting roads in the area, as well as blocking access to numerous buildings and residences.

14.Highways Department and Transport Department advised that Po Shek Wu Road Bridge formed a critical part of the road network in the area, connecting to the Man Kam To boundary crossing with very heavy traffic. The impact on Man Kam To in the event of demolition and re-construction of the bridge would be unacceptable.

15.Other than the impact on Man Kam To, this alignment also had engineering constraints in that there was no space to construct a tunnel to facilitate the southern track of the Spur Line to cross underneath East Rail.

 

16. Resumption of Jumbo Plaza would also be required for the diversion of the Dongjiang water mains: this would likely be strongly objected to by the owners of the building.

(d) Southern Route 2

17.The Project proponent advised that it would conflict with the existing Sheung Shui Station which had to be demolished. There was no suitable location to build a new Sheung Shui Station. This alignment option would also impact on Tai Tau Ling, Tsung Pak Long, and Yin Kong, resulting in more private land being resumed.

(e) Route running along Fanling Highway

18.The Project proponent stated that construction of the support columns for the Spur Line would take up two lanes of the existing highway as no railway reserve had been provided when planning the Fanling Highway. The construction of the Spur Line by the side of the Fanling Highway would impact on schools and cycle tracks. Like Southern Route 2, this option also involved private land resumption in Tai Tau Ling and Tsung Pak Long.

(f) Route branching off south of Sheung Shui

19.On the possibility for the railway line to branch off south of Sheung Shui, the Project proponent advised that there would be operational constraints. Between Tai Po Market/Fanling and Sheung Shui, the peak hour passenger travel demand required 20 trains per hour per direction (tphpd). The Lok Ma Chau Spur Line would initially require 6 tphpd, and ultimately 12 tphpd. If the Spur Line was to branch off south of Sheung Shui Station, the tphpd between Fanling/Sheung Shui and Lo Wu would have to be reduced and would be inadequate to meet passenger demand.

(g) Underground route

20.The Project proponent advised that because of gradient consideration, the Spur Line would be well into Long Valley before it could go underground. This would bring about serious construction impacts and operational problems given the fact that the area was a flood plain. On the suggestion for the Spur Line to start heading underground after the Fanling Station, the Project proponent advised that this was not feasible in view of railway land constraints and bearing in mind the need to keep East Rail operational throughout the construction period.

(h) Route branching off from West Rail

21. The Project proponent indicated that originally West Rail Phase 2 would provide a second boundary crossing at Lok Ma Chau and another link with East Rail at north of Sheung Shui Station. However, the construction of Phase 2 had been deferred in 1997 subject to further planning study. Since the cross boundary travel demand was anticipated to exceed the carrying capacity of Lo Wu boundary crossing, a link serving Lok Ma Chau was therefore urgently needed to relieve the congestion at Lo Wu Station.

22. In view of all the engineering and operation constraints listed above, the Project proponent believed that alternative options were not feasible and therefore recommended that the Central Alignment be pursued.

(i) Route proposed by a Member

23.A Subcommittee Member proposed an alternative routing which could run between the Central Alignment and the River Beas Route. The route would branch off at the same point of the Central Alignment, run north as near as possible to River Beas, and heading south again to join the western part of the Central Alignment. This route, if feasible, could reduce the fragmentation of Long Valley and minimise the landscape impact. A sketch of the proposed route is at Appendix 1.

24. The Project proponent doubted whether this route would reduce fragmentation. They also advised that this was not feasible taking into account railway safety and engineering considerations. However, the Subcommittee was not convinced that the constraints could not be overcome and believed that there would be a lot more flexibility in the alignment if the train speed and the location of the future station at Kwu Tung could be adjusted. The Project proponent undertook to further investigate and report on the proposed route.

25. The Subcommittee noted that for any project that was likely to result in adverse ecological impacts in an area of high conservation value, the onus was on the proponent to demonstrate that no other practical and reasonable alternatives were available and that adequate on-site and off-site mitigation measures were employed. The Subcommittee was not completely satisfied that the proponent had explored and adequately evaluated, as required in the TM, all possible options with respect to the construction methods or alignment.

The principle of "no-net-loss in wetland"

26.The Subcommittee noted that some of the habitat lost or disturbed would be compensated through enhancement of existing habitats. Some Subcommittee Members pointed out that compensation should be in terms of both area and function. Making use of existing fishponds might compensate the ecological function but there would still be a net loss in terms of area. They believed that hitherto compensation had always been in terms of both ecological function and area. Some members suggested that part of the proposed project would impinge on the wetland conservation area in Lok Ma Chau and if the Subcommittee were to depart from the past practice by accepting compensation in terms of function, the matter should be thoroughly debated in ACE meeting.

27.AFCD advised that the Town Planning Board Guidelines for Application for Developments within Deep Bay Area stated that for an essential infrastructural project with overriding public interest it should not result in a net loss in wetland function and negative disturbance impact. A practical wetland compensation scheme was required. According to s.5.4.5(d) of Annex 16 of the TM, the Project proponent is required to demonstrate no loss in ecological function and capacity which can be achieved through compensation.

Location of Lok Ma Chau Station

28. The Subcommittee noted that the Project had taken into account planned and committed developments in the area concerned. However, one Member pointed out that the location of the proposed Lok Ma Chau Station would impinge on the mitigation site of the Shenzhen River Regulation Project Stage II. The Project proponent undertook to clarify whether this was the case.

Adequacy and effectiveness of mitigation measures

29. As regards long term mitigation, the Project proponent highlighted that the 9.5 ha of fish ponds lost in Lok Ma Chau would be compensated through 28.5 ha of enhanced wetland; for the 0.85 ha of agricultural land under the viaduct in Long Valley, 2.4 ha of re-created wetland underneath and parallel to the viaduct and 1.4 ha of enhanced meanders along River Beas would be provided. For temporary mitigation during construction in Long Valley, 1.8 ha of marshland would be enhanced from an existing fish pond in the area.

30. The Subcommittee considered the proposed mitigation measures inadequate and likely to be ineffective due to the lack of definition/ quantification of the functional value required to be mitigated. It was noted that the meanders intended to be enhanced was already intended as mitigation under the Main Drainage Channels (MDC) project. Since the mitigation work concerned had not yet been carried out, there could be no set benchmark of the functional value of the meanders. Likewise, the intrinsic value of the 28.5 ha of existing fish ponds in Lok Ma Chau had not been defined. Moreover, no information could be found in the EIA report in respect of the definition/quantification of the equivalent functional value needed for ecological compensation. As a result, the Subcommittee had no basis to assess whether the mitigation measures could compensate for the ecological loss. The Project Proponent considered the recommendations in the EIA Report to add value to the proposals of Territory Development Department (TDD) by enhancing the meanders from seasonal wetland/ dry planting areas to permanent wetland with a managed and controlled water supply to be of considerably greater ecological value.

31. According to s.5.4.2 of Annex 16 of the TM, "the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures shall be carefully evaluated and the significance of any residual impacts after implementing them shall be clearly stated." S.6.6 of Annex 20 of the TM requires that "where the effectiveness is uncertain or depends on assumptions about operating procedures, climatic conditions, etc. or where there is a risk that mitigation will not work, this [should be] made clear and data introduced to justify the acceptance of the assumption." One Subcommittee Member cited overseas research findings which showed that the failure rate of man-made wetland was about 50 to 73%, although no further information was provided in the meeting on the scope of review and the reasons for failure. There was concern whether the enhancement measures proposed could achieve the functional value required for mitigation. The Subcommittee therefore found it difficult to be convinced that the proposed mitigation measures would be effective. The Project proponent responded that the wetlands in Hong Kong were predominantly man-made, constituted existing farmland and fishponds, and that the chances of success rate in recreating this type of wetland should be very high.

Environmental performance of the West Rail project

32.The Project proponent advised that it had put in place a comprehensive Environmental Monitoring and Audit Programme. The contractors were required to set up a multi-disciplinary Environmental Team to monitor the various potential environmental impacts arising from the construction activities. An independent auditor was employed to verify the environmental performance of the project. In addition, regular site inspections and audits were conducted to ensure that construction activities were carried out in accordance with environmental regulations and requirements.

33.Apart from regular monitoring and inspection, any ad hoc environmental issues were dealt with in an appropriate manner. In the sensitive marsh area in Kam Tin, which was located on private land outside the West Rail boundary, the Project proponent had taken appropriate measures to rectify the water level of the marsh area and to remove a herd of buffalos from the marsh area. Though not required under the Environmental Permit, the Project proponent had initiated a monitoring programme which had found Greater Painted Snipe in the marsh area during the construction of West Rail. Site surveys and radio telemetry were conducted to provide data on the use of the habitat and to ensure that the marsh area would not be adversely affected by the construction works.

34. The Subcommittee indicated that members would be interested in actual environmental results rather than promises, and at the request of the Chairman, the Project proponent undertook to provide information on records of exceedances, including repeated exceedances, of the West Rail project.

Long-term management plan for ecological mitigation measures

35. The Project proponent advised that pending Government's decision on the long term arrangement for managing wetlands, a "Trust" approach would be adopted in which partnership with experienced management agent would be established to manage the wetland concerned.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION

36.The Subcommittee requested and the Project proponent undertook to provide the following to facilitate discussion at this meeting : -

  1. further assessment of the proposed alignment between Central Alignment and River Beas Route;
  2. clarification on agreed ecological value of the three River Beas meanders under TDD MDC project, and the ecological value of the proposed enhanced meanders by the Spur Line project;
  3. clarification of whether the location of the proposed Lok Ma Chau Station would impinge on a mitigation site of the Shenzhen River Regulation Project Stage II;
  4. information on records of exceedances in environmental standards of the West Rail project; and
  5. information to justify the success rate of re-created wetlands.

EIA Subcommittee Secretariat
July 2000


 

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