The Highways Department has been accused of covering up the irregular movements of seawalls erected as part of the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge project for over two years.
On Monday, local outlet HK01 reported that the seawalls, built near Hong Kong airport, had “collapsed” outwards into the sea, creating an additional sandbank approximately six hectares in size.
In the evening, the Highways Department confirmed that it had discovered “movements” at the end of 2014, but denied allegations from lawmakers that it had tried to cover up the incident.
The seawalls were erected between May 2012 and September 2013. They were meant to protect a stretch of reclaimed land, which would be the site of a highway linking Hong Kong to the HK$117.7 billion bridge.
HK01 reported that engineers and construction workers have been levelling the new six-hectare sandbank created by the alleged collapses. They even created paths for vehicles to access the site.
The Highways Department, however, did not disclose the incident in its monthly environmental reports.
“The incident may have involved a cover-up by officials,” said Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan Suk-chong. “It might have led to the illegal reclamation of land.”
She asked transport, housing, highways and environmental officials to give a public account of the incident at an urgent Legislative Council meeting next Monday.
On Monday evening, the Highways Department confirmed that it received reports of “five to ten-metre movements” around the reclaimed land over two years ago – in October and November, 2014.
Highways chief Daniel Chung Kum-wah claimed that the movements occurred because the reclamation work behind the seawalls had exerted force onto them.
“The natural force will result in a natural extension of the seawall,” he said. “It does not involve any collapse of the seawall, it is a natural phenomenon.”
Chung said that contractor China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) Limited – a Chinese state-owned company – had submitted a report on the incident in 2015.
He said that the new sandbank, seen in satellite images, is a temporary structure erected by the contractor to strengthen the seawalls. He added that the contractor – not the government – paid for the structure, and that it will be removed in mid-2017.
Chung claimed that his department did not disclose the incident to the public because the works did not involve expanding the size of land that would be permanently reclaimed. The works also did not require further environmental approval.
“Not many citizens go there,” he added, “it doesn’t have a large impact.”
Lawmaker Chan, however, did not accept Chung’s explanation. She said that the works had a “direct impact on the environment, the remedial measures, engineering costs, time-frames, and the public’s right to know.”
She added that officials should clarify to the Legislative Council as to whether any party is responsible, or should be punished, for the incident.
The construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has been plagued by repeated overspending and project delays.