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Granting of legal aid adds fuel to the fire in battle over incinerator


Howard Winn
May 11, 2012

Those working to block government plans to build an incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau are cock-a-hoop at the Legal Aid Department’s decision to grant aid to two Cheung Chau residents and one from Lantau who want to apply for a judicial review of decisions taken by the Environmental Protection Department, the Town Planning Board and Exco with respect to the incinerator.

The granting of legal aid means there is a sufficient basis for proceeding and has created a degree of confidence among those objecting to the incinerator that leave to apply for a judicial review will be granted over government objections at a court hearing that starts on June 7. If leave to apply for review is granted, this will put the government in the position of paying to sue itself, as occurred with the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Work on the incinerator is at present suspended after Legco’s environmental panel declined to approve the EPD’s plans. However objectors believe that as long as the outline zoning plan to build a 3,000- tonne-per day mass-burn incinerator on an artificial island close to the shore remains in existence, then they should continue with the judicial review.

At the same time, the arguments over the type of technology that should be employed continue. Conventional mass-burn incinerators, the objectors say, produce dangerously toxic emissions, and some of them have been closed down around the world for this reason. They argue instead for gas plasma incinerators that produce little in the way of emissions, according to the manufacturers. They can variously produce jet fuel or syngas, which can generate electricity. Various city and regional authorities have in the past few years started to build gas plasma waste-to-energy operations, though nothing on the scale of 3,000 tonnes a day.

Several firms have produced proposals and asked to speak to the EPD. One firm has even offered to install and operate a gas plasma waste-to-energy operation at no charge to the government, as it believes it will make money from the project. However, the EPD has refused to see these firms. Its consultants, Aecom, apparently believe that it is not suitable for Hong Kong, though its US counterpart evidently has a different view.

“We believe that this technology is not only environmentally friendly but ready for large-scale commercialisation,” Aecom’s Mike Zebel said in the US.

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