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October 28th, 2010:

Heated pools and Deep Bay views, but it’s still just a sludge incinerator

South China Morning Post — 28 Oct. 2010

Its wave-like design aims to blend in with the coast in front and the hills behind, incorporates three heated swimming pools, a viewing platform with a vista of Deep Bay, and an environmental education centre, and will produce enough energy to meet its needs and also power 3,000 homes.

Yet all these attractive features cannot disguise the fact a HK$4.9 billion facility in Tuen Mun is merely an  incinerator for processing sludge from sewage treatment plants.

Needless to say, it has not won over local politicians, who staunchly oppose any idea of building a  solid-waste incinerator beside it.

Tuen Mun district councillors consulted about the sludge plant’s design said it would be the last unpopular facility they would accept.

Councillor Lothar Lee Hung-sham said the leisure and education facilities were a gimmick to woo Tuen Mun residents into accepting further waste incineration facilities.

“Why do we need such heated pools or an education centre? We don’t need to be educated about incineration if such a facility does not exist here in the first place,” he said.

The government has not ruled out seeking approval for a proposed solid waste incinerator next to the sludge incinerator in Tuen Mun, or on outlying island Shek Kwu Chau.

Yet Lee said the council strongly opposed any more polluting facilities in Tuen Mun as the district already had two power stations, a cement-making plant, steel-mill, landfill and an aviation fuel storage. Chan Shue-ying, another councillor, said the sludge plant was not opposed as they hoped it would be the final facility.

Such opposition will be a blow to officials who had hoped the extra facilities would win public acceptance of thermal waste treatment.

The government unveiled details yesterday as it announced it had awarded a contract to design, build and operate the plant to VW-VES Hong Kong, a subsidiary of French environmental giant Veolia.

The burning chamber will be hidden behind glass exterior walls with the 50-metre stacks barely visible from outside.

To allay fears over emissions, the Environmental Protection Department has also agreed to set up a new air-quality monitoring station in Tuen Mun to closely track air pollution in the area, but its exact location has not been decided.

The incinerator, at the northern end of the Tsang Tsui ash lagoon, is environment officials’ long-awaited solution for treating the foul-smelling sludge now dumped in landfill sites.

Able to handle 2,000 tonnes of sludge a day, the facility will take all of the 800 tonnes now produced each day, which is expected to grow to 1,500 tonnes in 2014.

Officials have blamed the undesirable practice of burying the sludge in landfills for creating a bad smell  affecting Tseung Kwan O residents. With incineration, the landfills will take only the burnt residue.

Edward Yau Tang-wah, the environment secretary, hailed the plan, saying it would incorporate the latest incineration technology and meet the most stringent emission standards in the world. “The project shows modern technology can offer a much better solution and also provide facilities that will be popular with the local community,” he said after  a ceremony to sign the contracts.