Cooks Environment Group Criticizes Pipeline Proposal Process

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Public submissions are being handled in a flawed, inadequate way

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, March 12, 2015) – Flawed and totally inadequate - that’s how one environmental group is describing the way the National Environment Service is handling public submissions on the controversial Petrocean over-the-reef fuel pipeline proposal.

Submissions closed recently, but Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) director Kelvin Passfield says there are serious issues with National Environment Service (NES) processes.

The public was invited to make submissions on the proposal which involves supplying Rarotonga with bulk fuel from a large tanker via an over-the-reef pipeline. The plan’s backers, Transam Cook Islands Limited and Pacific Islands Energy, say it would result in cheaper fuel prices for consumers.

But Passfield and others who have made public submissions on the proposal say there are flaws in the NES system.

Three email addresses were given to the public to send submissions to, but Passfield claims many of the emails failed to be delivered.

And many of the shops that were listed as stocking copies of the Environmental Impact Report (EIA) on the proposal knew nothing about it.

He says the NES system clearly needs a revamp.

"It is totally inadequate and doesn’t have the capacity to do a thorough analysis of public submissions," he said.

In the past TIS has made public submissions on a number of projects using detailed reports from engineers, which Passfield says have not been acknowledged by NES.

He says there are also issues with the qualifications of members of the Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA), the body with the power to accept or reject the Petrocean proposal.

The REA is made up of 10 Rarotongan Members of Parliament and one representative each from civil society, a non-government organisation, Te Aronga Mana and Public Health.

"There needs to be an independent engineer to assess the proposal and the MPs don’t have the capacity to do that," says Passfield.

NES director Vaitoti Tupa says the Office of the Prime Minister is looking at the email system issue and admits there is a possibility some public submissions may have missed out.

He says the NES is working hard to process the 26 public submissions that it has received and to provide a report for the REA to consider.

Any questions raised by members of the public will go back to Petrocean to answer, he says.

"It could take three to four weeks for NES to prepare our report to the REA."

Issues raised by members of the public regarding NES processes and public consultation will be looked at, Tupa says.

The service is also hoping to review the Environment Act 2006 to iron out some of the problems such as the lack of specialist knowledge among REA members. But under the Act the REA already has the power to call together a special committee made up of an independent engineer and private sector representatives to get clarification on any issues they are unsure of, he says.

However, that is up to the discretion of the REA – who may decide they sufficiently understand the complex proposal.

"We met with the Commonwealth Secretariat last week, so that the law will be reviewed at some point this year."

But after the review it will need to go through a legislative process to become law and will not be completed before the REA hears the over-the-reef proposal, says Tupa.

Minister of Finance Mark Brown says he’s not concerned that landowner objections have stalled progress on stage two of the $64 million Te Mato Vai water infrastructure project.

At a post-cabinet press conference yesterday, Brown said Te Mato Vai was the country’s biggest project, and it didn’t matter if it took a couple more months to get it back on track.

"I’d rather it was finished later and done correctly," he said.

CINews reported last week that several objections involving stage two had been made to the High Court by landowner groups including Avatiu, Tupapa, Avana, Taipara, Totokoitu Ki Uta, Turangi and Papua, as well as the Takuvaine water catchment committee.

Stage two involves upgrades to existing intakes and trunk pipelines and new treatment and reservoir storage facilities – but all of the 12 intakes are on privately owned land.

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