Aug 06, 2022
Hong Kongs last sawmill faces closure amid development plan
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HONG KONG (AP) — Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, Hong Kong’s last operating sawmill, has been processing timber in the city for 75 years.
Soon the family-run factory near the territory’s border with mainland China might be forced to shut down as part of a development project: it received notice earlier this year that it had to vacate its current premises, which it has occupied for nearly four decades, to make way for a development project.
Hong Kong residents have been visiting Chi Kee to buy bits of the wood piled high up around the sawmill and collect a small piece of Hong Kong’s heritage.
According to the local newspaper South China Morning Post, Chi Kee was supposed to have left by June 30, but it has been unable to move because of the tons of timber remaining there.
Today, woodworking factories like Chi Kee have become a sunset industry in Hong Kong, now that mass-produced, imported furniture has become readily available. Most sawmills either have closed down or moved across the border into China, where manufacturing costs are cheaper.
The factory was set up in 1947, around the time when Hong Kong’s woodworking industry began and the city became known for manufacturing furniture. It first was located on Hong Kong island but in the 1980s it moved to Kwu Tung, a rural area in the New Territories.
That area is slated for development under Hong Kong’s Northern Metropolis plan.
It is a blueprint for developing land close to China’s border into an IT hub that could provide tens of thousands of jobs and homes in the densely populated city, the world’s most expensive property market.
The plan also is meant to integrate Hong Kong, a former British colony with its own economy, more closely with neighboring Shenzhen, across the border.
“Back then, we thought that this was a remote area, it won’t be affected, but who knew that it’d become one of the most important areas for development?” said Wong Hung-kuen, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber’s director.
“So we need to hand it over to our country because the land belongs to the country. We just hope to get some assistance and sympathy from the government,” said Wong, who gave up on a dream of turning the sawmill into a museum.
Hong Kong’s Development Bureau, which is in charge of the city’s urban planning, said in a statement that Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber was notified it would need to leave in the second half of 2021, but that was extended to the end of June 2022, “which should have left sufficient time for the operator to arrange removal and if necessary relocation.”
Chi Kee was offered land compensation, compensation for disruptions caused by the development project and assistance with planning, it said.
Although authorities have offered to help dispose of Chi Kee’s leftover timber, Wong wants to turn it into products such as furniture, which he says would be less wasteful.
For now, it is unclear when Chi Kee will shut down for good.
Local conservationists like University of Hong Kong’s assistant professor Yu Ka-sing say that while the sawmill is appreciated by the public, it’s hard to preserve it because it lacks any historical or architectural significance.
Still, those who have flocked to Chi Kee after hearing its days are numbered say it represents a part of Hong Kong’s heritage. Even a small piece of timber has become something to hold onto in a fast changing city.
Jones Kwong was among those visitors.
“I think it’s a pity. It’s the only one left in this traditional industry, and it’s going to be demolished soon,” Kwong said.
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Opinion Columnists | Skelton: Newsoms Delta plan makes more sense. But it’s still a ‘water grab’
The third attempt could be the charm for repairing California’s main waterworks, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
On paper at least, the latest plan by a governor to upgrade the Delta into a more reliable state water supply seems to make much more sense than what his predecessors promoted.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s single-tunnel proposal is smaller and more respectful of the bucolic estuary’s small farms, waterfowl habitat, unique recreational boating and historic tiny communities. So, it’s potentially less controversial.
But it still can legitimately be labeled a Los Angeles and corporate agriculture “water grab.” It justifiably scares little Delta towns and local farmers who rely on fresh river flows to turn back salty water from San Francisco Bay.
Delta folks can’t match the grabbers’ political power. But environmentalist allies have a loud voice and attorneys eager to file lawsuits that can gum up the works.
There’s no pretension that the governor’s Delta tunnel plan is a solution for the current drought. Even if it’s eventually built, there’ll first be several cycles of drought and flooding.
It’s possible that a second package of water projects that Newsom unveiled last week could help in the present drought, although his proposals are tailored for the hotter, drier future of climate change when there’ll be less Sierra runoff.
He called for accelerating construction of water projects, including storage above and below ground, desalination of salty sea and brackish inland water, and lots more conservation and recycling.
The Delta is California’s main water hub, serving 27 million people and irrigating 3 million acres.
But its ecology has been tanking. River waters have been diverted for agriculture before they reach the Delta. And the water that does reach it has been over-pumped through fish-chomping monstrosities into southbound aqueducts. The powerful pumps also reverse river flows, confusing migrating young salmon and leaving them vulnerable to large predators.
This has devastated native fish — salmon, steelhead, tiny smelt — and prompted courts occasionally to tighten the spigots on water pumped to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southland cities.
Delta replumbing ideas have been fought over for six decades, back to when Gov. Pat Brown realized that his heralded State Water Project was not sustainable for fish. It also could be swamped by the collapse of fragile levees during floods or earthquakes.
There have been three major iterations of Delta fixes.
Pat Brown’s son, Gov. Jerry Brown, overreached by proposing a gargantuan Peripheral Canal that would have siphoned Sacramento River water in the north Delta and routed it around the estuary in an aqueduct large enough to float an ocean liner. It had a carrying capacity of 23,000 cubic feet of water per second.
The Legislature authorized the canal, but voters overwhelmingly repealed the legislation in 1982.
Fast-forward a quarter century to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He launched a twin-tunnel idea to transport Sacramento River water under the estuary from the north Delta to the southern pumps. Each tunnel would have been 40 feet wide, embedded through the Delta’s heart — pear orchards, a popular scenic boating area and a waterfowl sanctuary where migrating sandhill cranes winter.
Brown pushed hard for the twin tunnels when he returned as governor, trimming their total capacity from 15,000 cubic feet per second to 9,000 cubic feet per second.
But opponents loudly protested, questioning the need for two tunnels and objecting to desecration of fragile land during decade-long construction.
Now Newsom has proposed a more practical plan: A single tunnel 45 miles long and 39 feet wide, with a smaller capacity of 6,000 cubic feet per second capacity. It would be routed around the eastern edge of the Delta, away from boating and the cranes, although skirting another wildlife refuge along Interstate 5.
The project’s configuration would mean less pumping in the south Delta and fewer fish kills.
Cost: at least $16 billion, a huge investment paid for by water users.
Newsom says one goal is to prepare for sea rise resulting from climate change, which will make the Delta saltier and require capturing fresher water upriver for transport south.
But that’s all the more reason why Delta skeptics object to the state grabbing their fresh water before it can flow to local communities and farms. The state government’s view is that the water isn’t all theirs anyway.
State officials say they want to grab rampaging flood water and store it in reservoirs and aquifers for use during droughts. The tunnel wouldn’t operate when rivers are low, they insist. But Delta people don’t trust the state.
George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times columnist.