Govt, taxpayers foot bill for illegal channel work

Govt, taxpayers foot bill for illegal channel work

The government and taxpayers have been left footing the bill after being forced to spend over a million dollars reinstating a drainage channel that was illegally diverted to allow building of an access road.

The completed reinstatement of the river channel at Kam Tsin Tsuen showing the precast pipes left in. The village houses on the right behind the wall were completed last year. Photo taken on 30 Jan 2013 (Danny Chung)

The completed reinstatement of the river channel at Kam Tsin Tsuen showing the precast pipes left in. The village houses on the right behind the wall were completed last year. Photo taken on 30 Jan 2013 (Danny Chung)

The drainage channel in question is in Kam Tsin Tsuen near Sheung Shui in the New Territories.

Asked about the details, the Drainage Services Department, replying via the Development Bureau, said the final bill for the work came to HK$1.2 million.

“The works were substantially completed on 9 October 2012. The flow capacity of the river was completely reinstated on that day. All construction works were completed in December 2012,” the department spokesman said.

The case first came to light when local Chinese newspapers Oriental Daily and the Sun ran stories on it in April last year.

The stories reported that somebody had dropped precast concrete pipes into a drainage channel and backfilled on top in order to allow an access road to be formed on top to the length of 200 metres.

The channel and therefore the road on top wound its way in a northeasterly direction to connect to Kam Tsin Road thereby allowing quick access to the main road network.

According to the reports, villagers in February last year discovered the channel which is on government land had been filled in and complained to the government.

But a Home Affairs Department spokeswoman told Construction Post that a complaint was first made as early as February 2010.

Another view of the reinstated river channel at Kam Tsin Tsuen showing the joints filled in with cement mortar. Photo taken on 30 Jan 2013 (Danny Chung)

Another view of the reinstated river channel at Kam Tsin Tsuen showing the joints filled in with cement mortar. Photo taken on 30 Jan 2013 (Danny Chung)

So far nobody knows who did the work.

“No suspect was found. If the suspect can be identified, and sufficient and admissible evidence can be collected, Government will take prosecution action against the suspect. Upon conviction in court, Government will consider claiming from the convicted, the costs it has incurred,” the District Lands Office/North said through a statement via Development Bureau.

The DLO said the purpose of the work “cannot be ascertained”.

The Chinese reports said the work was done to provide road access to small houses (known officially as New Territories Exempted Houses) being built nearby.

View of the precast pipes left intact by DSD at one end of the channel near Kam Tsin Road. Photo taken on 30 Jan 2013 (Danny Chung)

View of the precast pipes left intact by DSD at one end of the channel near Kam Tsin Road. Photo taken on 30 Jan 2013 (Danny Chung)

The audacity of the culprit’s work is made more exceptional as the location of the illegal work was only a short walk, taking less than a minute, from the access road to the Chief Executive’s Fanling Lodge.

Construction Post first visited the site in May last year and noted that DSD had already instructed its term contractor China Road and Bridge Corporation to fence off the channel and start excavating to reinstate the channel.

A works order posted on site said excavation work was to start after 16 April 2012 which was the deadline given by Lands Department for removal of the illegal work.

The anticipated completion date given was 31 July 2012.

The works order gave the estimated value of the reinstatement work as HK$1.21 million and required the contractor to “demolish and remove all illegal structure along existing river” and other items of work.

DSD's term contractor starting to break out the access road at Kam Tsin Tsuen to reveal the precast pipe underneath after fencing off the site. Photo taken on 30 May 2012 (Danny Chung)

DSD’s term contractor starting to break out the access road at Kam Tsin Tsuen to reveal the precast pipe underneath after fencing off the site. Photo taken on 30 May 2012 (Danny Chung)

Construction Post subsequently revisited the site six more times with the final visit made at the end of January.

Despite the works order instructing complete removal of the illegal work, Construction Post found that only the top part of the 1.8 metre diameter precast concrete pipes has been broken out and removed.

At one end of the channel, DSD simply left seven precast pipes as they were without breaking out them out.

In addition, the gaping joints between each pipe, which appeared presumably due to the rushed nature of the installation, were filled in with cement mortar above the water line only.

Asked about the pipes being left in, the DSD spokesman said: “During the removal works, it was found that the original ground had been disturbed by the illegal filling. Our assessment revealed that the complete removal of the precast concrete pipe would very likely affect the stability of the adjacent private lands and was therefore considered not feasible.”

As for the joints, the spokesman said filling of the joints would safeguard the stability of the adjoining land and not adversely affect the drainage capacity of the channel.

“DSD considers this functionally satisfactory albeit aesthetically not too pleasing,” the spokesman said.

The illegal access road on top of the drainage channel at Kam Tsin Tsuen, fenced off by DSD's term contractor. Photo taken on 30 May 2012 (Danny Chung)

The illegal access road on top of the drainage channel at Kam Tsin Tsuen, fenced off by DSD’s term contractor. Photo taken on 30 May 2012 (Danny Chung)

It would appear though the culprit spent quite a bit of money on his enterprise.

Based on what could be seen on site, there were about 125 metres of 2 metre length pipe and 75 metres of 3 metre length pipe.

On being asked about the estimated cost of the installation work, a main contractor’s quantity surveyor said the material cost of the pipes alone would be about HK$10,000 per pipe.

Assuming an average material cost per metre of about HK$4,000 for a length of 200 metres, total cost for the material cost alone excluding labour cost would be HK$800,000.

By way of comparison an all-in Bill of Quantities rate for a 1.8 metre precast pipe including excavation open cut, installation, backfilling and testing would be about HK$9,000 per metre, according to the QS.

Add in the cost of backfilling and formation of the road access on top, it was reasonable to estimate the culprit spent at about HK$1 million on the work.

In fact, at one of the drainage channel, near the small houses, the road surface was concrete pavement with mesh reinforcement, seemingly built to Highways Department standards.

View of the illegal access road connecting to Kam Tsin Road nearby, the illegal road having been fenced off by DSD's term contractor. The works order has been posted on the barrier. Photo taken on 30 May 2012 (Danny Chung)

View of the illegal access road connecting to Kam Tsin Road nearby, the illegal road having been fenced off by DSD’s term contractor. The works order has been posted on the barrier. Photo taken on 30 May 2012 (Danny Chung)

The sheer quantity of the pipes arriving on site would be very noticeable too.

The QS said a 24 tonne crane truck would be able to carry only two 1.8 metre diameter precast pipes per trip, therefore requiring at least 40 delivery trips for the precast pipes alone.

“It was just thrown in, no installation at all,” the QS said to Construction Post.

Asked what he thought about the audacity of the culprit, a former senior official at Lands Department said: “A classic case of over engineering?”

Danny Chung

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