Artificial Sand Use Proposed for 3rd Runway Reclamation May Violate Environmental Permits – Green Sense Urges Halt of Project

Serious problems emerged with 3rd runway reclamation fill

Overseas import of marine sand leads to high cost and multiple pollution

Suspension of rock dust from artificial sand causes murky waters

Green Sense claims ‘Halting project is the only way out’

Facing the enormous demand of marine sand by reclamation works of the 3rd runway of the International Airport, contractors are presented with two choices: Importing marine sand from Hainan, China or Southeast Asia, or replacing a portion of marine sand fill with artificial sand. Both are equally destructive, as the former causes multiple pollution of oceans, while the latter leads to the suspension of fine rock dust in the water, resulting in unacceptable deterioration of the local marine environment. Green Sense criticized the huge environmental cost of the project, and urged LegCo members to push for detailed accounts from the Airport Authority and the Environmental Protection Department in a meeting of the Three-Runway System LegCo Subcommittee held today.

Cost of the reclamation works, which requires a total of 100 million cubic meters of marine sand, has already amounted to a vast HKD 56.2 billion, and may continue to rise due to a shortage of sand supply from China and subsequent rising prices, easily leading to serious budget overrun and delays. In fact, marine sand supply has never been enough – last year, construction of an artificial island in the Macau section of the Hong-Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge experienced delays due to this very reason. The 3rd runway project is facing the same crisis, said a contractor last month, and the proposed solution to keep the project going was to import marine sand from Southeast Asia, as well as to mix in artificial sand – finely crushed rocks produced with sand making machines – in place of marine sand.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, Chief Executive (Voluntary) of Green Sense, emphasized that overseas import of marine sand would cause multiple environmental pollution. Not only would the reclamation site suffer a permanent loss of marine habitat, and the seabed from which marine sand was extracted be permanently destroyed, but the lengthy transport of sand would also lead to unacceptable carbon emissions.

On the other hand, artificial sand consists of not only larger rock grains but also fine rock dust, which, when used for reclamation, would suspend in water and cause severe marine pollution. As a demonstration, Tam prepared two glasses of clear water and added a sample of marine sand and artificial sand to each. The marine sand sank within minutes leaving the water clear, yet the glass of water containing artificial sand remained turbid throughout the press release.

‘A rinsing step is needed to remove the fine dust during artificial sand production,’ said Tam. ‘But this would in turn pollute rivers close to the factories, and the cost could very likely rocket. Thus it is unrealistic to rinse artificial sand before use. However, direct use of artificial sand without rinsing would likely be violating requirements stated on environmental permits, or lengthen construction processes, resulting in delays and budget overrun.’ He added that over the years the project has already been criticized for being overly ambitious, unhelpful in resolving limited airspace issues, and destructive to habitats of the Chinese White Dolphins, and has consequently faced strong oppositions. It was clear that the Airport Authority is stuck in a dilemma and the project should be stopped immediately.

Lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim expressed equal concern with the project and the fact that authorities have failed to make public the environmental and budget-relating problems of using artificial sand, despite it being clear that marine sand was on shortage. He agreed to demand detailed explanations during the subcommittee meeting.