Strong Opposition To Port Upgrades On Cook Islands’ Aitutaki Arises

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Plan to accommodate cruise ships, yachts, feared by locals

By Ben Chapman-Smith

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 29, 2014) – A proposal to deepen and widen the Arutanga Harbour entrance in Aitutaki has drawn strong opposition from two local groups.

The Cook Islands Port Authority and Aitutaki Island Council are planning to redevelop the harbour, largely to encourage international yachts and passenger cruise ships to visit, leading to growth in the tourism economy.

In the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, Kiwi consultancy Beca says key elements of the project include deepening the existing harbour entrance channel and harbour basins, construction of breakwaters and upgrade of port infrastructure.

An area of land adjacent to the harbour would also be redeveloped, including the construction of a multi-purpose community facility and additional buildings.

The public had until last weekend to express their opinions on the EIA and the National Environment Service (NES) said it received two submissions.

More than 60 people from the village of Nikaupara have written a letter objecting to the proposal to deepen and widen the entrance channel.

To do so would have "huge" social and environmental impacts, they say.

"Deepening of the existing entrance channel and widening the existing harbour entrance channel from 2-3m deep to 6m deep, and from 10m-15m wide with the use of machinery would create problems to nearby live coral heads suffocating them from sediments brought by currents during construction period."

The group says that allowing the project to go ahead will open the door to marine predators to enter the lagoon, putting swimmers and fisherman at risk.

"We do not need this much dredging to take place; therefore we are proposing why not dredge areas where the yachts are getting stranded during low tides to allow them to come in and out without waiting for the right tide."

The village is calling on the NES to "consider the voice of the people" and protect the island’s environment.

Another strong submission has been made by seven concerned citizens of the Ureia/Arutanga area.

They recommend that dredging only take place around the shallow area of the channel, allowing yachts and fishing boats to move in and out easily at all tides.

"The project must not do any more dredging on the northern part of the fishing club.....otherwise it will destroy our octopus breeding ground and may also destroy our fishing ground for ature and koma."

The group says any development should begin on land - not at sea.

"We feel that constructing the Orongo facility would bring our people together and tourists will visit the market area and stalls from Monday to Saturday, and on top of that the Island Council will generate money rentals of stall owners/vendors using the facility."

Beca says the effects of the proposal will not be significant and any potential effects will be minimised.

"The project will be undertaken within the existing harbour footprint and the harbour has undergone previous projects of a similar nature (i.e. with dredging and wharf construction) without causing detrimental effects. Blasting has caused vibration impacts in the past and will not be used for this project."

It says consultation has been undertaken with stakeholders, relevant Ministries, local businesses, Tribal Leaders and the community.

"Concerns that have been raised through consultation have been addressed in this report and can be managed so that impacts are minor."

Beca says the overall aim of the Orongo Development Project is to stimulate and diversify economic development from tourism and ensure that shipping services are available and affordable.

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