With almost no flat land left in Hong Kong, land reclamation on a massive scale was the only option when a new Disneyland was planned. Dave Parker reports from Lantau Island.
By 2005, pleasure seekers turning off the North Lantau Highway on Lantau Island will cross a 9m high berm - and enter a different world. Only the barren island hilltops will be visible over the 250,000 specially imported mature palm trees that will top the encircling berms.
Inside, the mouse will rule. Even the road signs will be subtly different. Hong Kong government highway regulations will still apply, but stop signs will sprout mouse ears, or duckbills.
At the centre of the 158ha park will be the Far East version of Disney's proven Magic Kingdom fantasy, plus hotels and entertainment centres. Up to 7m visitors a year are predicted, giving a $2.1bn (HK$16.8bn) boost to Hong Kong's economy and supporting more than 35,000 jobs. At present, however, the site is little more than a partially reclaimed bay dominated by a crumbling shipyard and a gas turbine power station.
Originally, Penny's Bay was earmarked for yet another container port. By 1999, however, following a feasibility study carried out by Scott Wilson, the decision had been taken to rezone it for leisure and tourism. and in December that year the Hong Kong government signed a $2.8bn deal with Disney to build a new theme park on the site.
Scott Wilson was also appointed to design and supervise the mammoth reclamation works.
Everything on the project is on the grand scale. The government's contribution to the infrastructure tops $1.6bn.
Reclaiming the first 158ha will involve the removal of 42M. m 3ofmud and silt and the importation of 65M. m3 of sand. This contract alone is worth $0.5M to a Ham Dredging/Hong Kong Construction joint venture. Currently seven trailer hopper dredgers with capacities of up to 20,000m3 are at work on the project, taking advantage of GPS navigation to dump their cargoes of Penny's Bay mud on older borrow areas in the sea bed before filling up with sand from elsewhere.
In the bay, water depths range from 2m to 20m, and up to 30m of mud has to be removed to expose a firm alluvial layer above rockhead. Sand is placed to well above the finished level to speed compaction, the extra cost of this surcharging being justified by the huge potential rewards to be achieved by opening the theme park as early as possible.
Environmental concerns also had to be addressed. The whitebellied sea eagle has recently started nesting nearby, and vulnerable populations of pink dolphins roam the local waters.
Soon after reclamation began local fishfarmers claimed that silt from the project had killed off 200t of valuable grouper and snapper, a claim rejected by the government after tests appeared to show the fish had died from viral infections and parasites.
Concerns also focused on the contaminated land around the old shipyard, by now in government hands, which was due to be demolished. Disney is very sensitive to environmental issues, and had to be satisfied on all these counts before construction could proceed.
Although the majority of visitors will arrive by road, initially at least, a new rail link will eventually shuttle up to 40% through a tunnel from the main line to Chep Lap Kok airport to a new station in the centre of the park. A ferry pier is also planned, to link the complex to the main city some 30 minutes away across the bay.
The existing power station had to be retained. This posed a challenge to the designers, but clever landscaping and subtle tree planting should ensure its utilitarian chimneys never disturb the Disneyland fantasy. All topsoil will be artificial, with all plantings irrigated with untreated water from mainland mountain reservoirs.
Landscape design is the responsibility of Earthasia, working in parallel with Maunsell Consultants Asia. Mouchel Asia will be responsible for environmental monitoring and audit.
Reclamation began in May last year and is due to finish early in 2003. In November this year infrastructure works begin. By 2002 the berms should be ready for the first of the palm trees to be planted, and the Disneyland site will begin to vanish from planet Earth.