Green worries no match for south China bridge project
Little more than lip service is paid to the environment when it clashes with infrastructure in China.
In China (and that includes Hong Kong), that has never been a problem. Little stands in the way of the juggernaut of progress, and even though lip service is paid to environmental concerns, it is a rare project that will be scuppered by green activism.
The difference in the environmental friendliness of China vis-à-vis the US can be starkly seen in the US$190 million-per-kilometre Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge project.
Despite a cacophony of outrage by most green groups, the project was given the green light by Hong Kong’s environmental watchdog this week. It should be up and running by 2015 at the earliest.
The Environmental Protection Department brushed aside concerns for the Chinese white dolphin and the insistence by green groups that a marine park be established before the bridge is built.
It also dismissed suggestions that a joint group involving Hong Kong and mainland officials be set up to monitor the ecological impact of the lengthy construction.
Now bear in mind that the economic benefits of the bridge have not been proven. One of the most bandied about justifications is that the bridge will open up the Western Pearl River Delta and the resultant containers full of consumer goods for export will be trucked to Hong Kong’s port.
Yet if the bridge does indeed prove attractive for truckers (unlikely unless there are huge government subsidies to reduce toll fees, not to mention customs delays), the one-truck-one-box approach will generate massive pollution. Barge is the favoured and far cheaper mode of transport for shippers exporting containers from Western PRD factories via Hong Kong, and scores of boxes can be cleared by customs at one time.
And if along with the trucks, private mainland vehicles, currently barred from Hong Kong roads, are allowed into the territory, the already chaotic congestion will be greatly aggravated. More pollution, more environmental impact.
So there are many reasons why the bridge should not be built. It is unnecessary, expensive and destructive.
Now contrast that with the situation facing New York-New Jersey’s Bayonne Bridge that is too low to admit the bigger container ships. President of Port Newark Container Terminal Don Hamm even said that raising the bridge is by far the greatest problem facing the port of NYNJ.
This mission critical problem was identified years ago, and even though the port faces severe consequences if the Bayonne Bridge is not raised soon, no one is prepared to rush the project through, no matter how vital it is. It will cost up to US$3 billion and the money won’t be found in a weekend, but it is ultimately concerns over the environmental impact that will slow down the project.
Here in China, it’s build now and clean up the mess as best we can later. If there is a later.