A whistleblower has questioned the quality of sand used in reclamation work for the airport’s third runway project. The Airport Authority, however, has said it has not found any instance of non-compliance with technical requirements.

An anonymous letter, from a person who claimed to be a site supervision engineer at the project, claimed that a subcontractor had supplied materials in March derived from poor quality rock dust, which is unsuitable for reclamation work. The materials have a density lower than water, in that they can float on seawater and cause pollution.

stone powder water
Clear water after mixing with marine sand; Murky water after mixing with rock dust. Photo: Facebook/Green Sense.

The letter was sent to the Airport Authority, the Environmental Protection Department and Customs and Excise Department at the end of last month.

It said the situation occurred as the top level contractor, China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC), could not secure marine sand from China, as the country has strict rules over marine sand exports, and its export permit had expired.

Replacement sand

The whistleblower claimed that the Airport Authority, which was responsible for the project, agreed that – as a replacement – CCCC could use high quality artificial sand made from crushed rocks as material for the reclamation.

However, Gold Mountain Marine Engineering, the company which received the subcontract from CCCC, supplied a blend of low quality rock dust mixed with mud, which was much cheaper, according to the whistleblower.

During the import process, the letter claimed that Gold Mountain told Customs the supplied materials were crushed stones. It also claimed the authorities rejected the material, but Gold Mountain still used them in the reclamation zone.

Roy Tam Edward Yiu
Roy Tam (left); Edward Yiu (right). Photo: Facebook/Green Sense.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, voluntary chief executive of the group Green Sense, and lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim both received the whistleblower letter.

“It is very likely a violation to the methods of reclamation approved by the environmental permit for the project,” Tam said. “[The lower quality material used] may extend the engineering process, thus creating delays and budget overuns.”

The project costs HK$141.5 billion – the most expensive engineering project in Hong Kong.

Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said the project was the largest one ever in terms of the demand for marine sand. The runway requires around 100 million cubic metres of sea sand for the 650 hectares of reclaimed land.

“The Airport Authority and the government have never clearly explained how can they obtain enough legal marine sand,” he said.

“If they are unable to explain, similar incidents will only happen again and it will become a giant loophole of corruption and environmental destruction.”

Perfect compliance

The Airport Authority said that it allowed the use of marine sand, machine-made sand and other materials in the technical requirements stated in the tender documents, meaning that contractors have enough time and flexibility to procure different materials that fit requirements.

third runway
The third runway system. Photo: Airport Authority

It said it has strict requirements over quality and the source of materials, and that contractors must provide proof of the materials’ source. The Authority also has an inspection mechanism to check if requirements are met.

“The Airport Authority has not found any incident of non-compliance with technical requirements so far,” it said.

Kevin Poole, Executive Director of the Third Runway project, said at the LegCo subcommittee meeting on the project that almost 800 individual tests have been done over every barge of materials since November last year, when reclamation started.

A motion was passed at the meeting requesting the Authority to provide information of the sand purchased.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.