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Final call: Groups gather at airport in last protest on third runway project

Environmental activist groups brandishing placards and banners marched through the hall chanting ‘shame on the Airport Authority’ and ‘white elephant’

Dozens of protesters gathered at Hong Kong International Airport yesterday in a final show of force against the Airport Authority’s contentious multibillion dollar third runway project – a day ¬before new passenger surcharges and initial groundbreaking work for its construction begin.

Led by environmental activist groups Green Sense and the Airport Development Concern Network, alongside other green and political groups, protesters gathered in the arrivals hall and took turns speaking out against the HK$141.5 billion project.

Security was tight as protesters brandishing placards and banners marched through the hall chanting “shame on the Airport Authority” and “white elephant”.

One conservation group held up a mock dolphin covered in fake blood to illustrate the hundreds of hectares of marine habitat that will be lost to reclamation. The groups accuse the authority of pushing forward with the project before they had properly assessed the impact on the Chinese white dolphin.

More than 650 hectares of sea north of Chek Lap Kok – much of it prime marine habitat used by the Chinese white dolphin – will be ¬reclaimed for the project, which also comprises support facilities and a new passenger building and apron.

Initial reclamation work was expected to begin today, along with the introduction of a new set of ¬passenger fees to help pay for the works – despite a pending judicial challenge.

“We are mourning Hong Kong’s environment. We are mourning the dolphins. We are mourning Hong Kong’s loss of procedural justice,” said the ¬concern network’s Michael Mo Kwan-tai, who vowed to “fight to the end” and to physically block work from starting if necessary.

Green Sense chief executive Roy Tam Hoi-pong said the last chance to stop the plan was a judicial review, which the authority had already “disrespected” by rushing ahead with work before a court judgement had been made.

“If the judicial review calls for work to stop, how will the Airport Authority refund the people who have paid the surcharge? Or those who have paid who are not from Hong Kong?” Tam said.

The Environmental Protection Department’s decision to issue a permit to go ahead with construction, despite the unresolved issues, has been the focus of the judicial challenge. Four days of hearings were completed in July.

Under the new fee scheme, ¬departing passengers travelling in first or business class on long-haul flights will pay HK$180, while those travelling in first or business class on short-haul flights will pay HK$160.

Long-haul flight passengers in economy class will also pay HK$160, while those on shorter flights will pay HK$90, unless they are in transit or transfer, in which case, they will pay HK$70. The fee will apply to all passengers who buy tickets from August 1 onwards.

A spokesman for the Airport Authority said the court had made it clear it was legally entitled to charge passengers for the project. But the spokesman refused to comment further on the legal challenge as it had entered judicial proceedings.

It was understood the authority would hold a private groundbreaking ceremony at its North Satellite Concourse today.
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