Nearly two months after recording unauthorised dumping on a wetland site, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) says it is still not certain if any law has been broken.
In a letter to local residents today, an EPD staff said officials were investigating the case “and would take enforcement action if there is sufficient evidence of violation of the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO).”
Yet at a meeting at the Pui O site on December 29, EPD officials advised that the CCTV had caught unauthorised dumping on the site between November 20 and 23.
Under the WDO, owners of Coastal Protection Area sites like this one must apply for an ‘acknowlegement’ from the EPD if they wish to carry out landfilling.
Local activists point out that dumping before receiving ‘acknowledgement’ from the EPD is a clear breach of the law.
They also say the EPD should have stayed the application pending the outcome of a judicial review into the department’s handling of dumping and landfilling, also at a Pui O site.
Additionally, the landowner has applied to the Town Planning Board to change the use to ‘agricultural’, yet has since built a brick wall around the site.
Paul Zimmerman, CEO of Designing Hong Kong, said the problem is that EPD is “limiting itself to the WDO rather than protecting land reserved for conservation purposes.”
The landfilling, and the inability of the EPD to stop it, flies in the face of the government’s own policy.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam referred to the importance of the Pui O wetland in her September policy address. The wetland, an important buffalo habitat, is also designated for protection under the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint.
The Sustainable Lantau Office met with other departments, including the EPD, the Planning Department and the police, last week work up a plan to stop trucks dumping construction waste on Pui O.
But that seems too little too late, and addresses only one of many reasons for Pui O’s disappearing wetland.
The years of lax enforcement by the EPD means landowners see no impediment to turning their wetland sites into other more profitable uses. Precedent is on their side.
The only option is a long-term solution. A land-swap, given the large number of owners, would take years, decades even.
The only solution is for the government to buy the wetland plots.
Aquisition of the wetland to protect the habitat, the buffalo and the local tourist economy would cost millions, but it is just a snip compared to the tens of billions taxpayers have laid out for cost overruns on dubious public works.
It would also demonstrate – to itself and the public – that the government believes in its own policies.