SCMP Monday, October 9, 2000

Tai O issues ultimatum to greens


Heads of Tai O on Lantau say they will oppose a green group's plan for the fishing village to host the SAR's first showcase of natural renewable energy unless the environmentalists support a new road link on the island.
The Earth Station, proposed by Friends of the Earth, would function as an education centre for students and as a research and exchange base for scientists on natural renewable energy.
The Jockey Club has granted $23 million for the project and the Lands Department is expected to approve the lease of three abandoned government buildings for the station.
However, the group has yet to convince senior village representatives who have demanded support from environmentalists for the proposed North-South link from Mui Wo to Tai Ho on Lantau.
"If they won't support our demand, we won't support theirs," said Lau Cheuk-lung, vice-chairman of the Tai O Rural Committee, the official representation of the village. "The station would draw more people in. But how could people come in if the transport links are not good enough?" he said.
According to Friends of the Earth, the station would draw about 35,000 visitors annually, mainly SAR students.
The road link has divided green groups and villagers on Lantau. It was rejected by the Environmental Protection Department because it would cut across the proposed north Lantau country park and damage the ecology of Tai Ho Valley.
Mei Ng Fong Siu-mei, director of Friends of the Earth and chairwoman of the Country and Marine Park Board, said the road would bring more traffic to the island and the only beneficiaries would be real estate developers. "According to some experts, the road construction project will bring ecological disaster to Lantau Island," she said. The group advocates water transport to link Tai O with Tung Chung.
Lam Kam-cheong, spokesman for the voluntary Tai O Residents' Rights Association, said it welcomed the group's plan. "It fits in with the trend of environmental protection and it would also bring huge economic benefit to the community," he said.
The Earth Station would be developed in three phases. In phase one, a solar and wind centre would be built to demonstrate the latest renewable energy technology. Adjacent to the wind centre would be a windmill with a large turbine to provide power for the centres. A cafe, to be run by local villagers, would also be set up and use solar energy.
In the second phase, the station would expand by planting mangroves at ponds near the village, while a bio-centre featuring recycling technology would be built. The final stage aims to upgrade Tai O into a sustainable-energy community.
Mrs Ng said Tai O was chosen because of its heritage and its potential to lead the SAR on renewable energy issues. "In the long run, we hope the station will help enlighten the youth there with the latest technology so that they can build a sustainable community," she said.