Rarotonga Environment Authority Rejects Over-The-Reef Pipeline

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Developers appeal decision against controversial proposal

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 1, 2015) – The Rarotonga Environment Authority has rejected a controversial proposal to build an over-the-reef pipeline to supply fuel to Rarotonga.

However those opposed to the Petrocean proposal, backed by Toa Petroleum, Transam Cook Islands Ltd and Pacific Islands Energy cannot sleep easy yet, as the developers are appealing the Rarotonga Enviroment Authority (REA) decision.

CI News understands the appeal is now being dealt with by Crown Law.

The plan to build the over-the-reef pipeline has come under fire this year, with many Rarotonga residents writing public submissions against the plan to construct a medium range fuel tanker mooring and pipeline in Nikao.

A tanker routinely passes the Cook Islands to deliver fuel to Tahiti and could potentially stop on the way to deliver fuel for the local market.

This would result in cheaper petrol prices for Rarotonga consumers.

Developers have said the proposal could offer lower costs associated with bulk delivery and handling of fuel when compared to current means of supply.

But under the Enviroment Act, the REA decided to decline the project proposal under the Environment Act at a recent meeting.

The group, chaired by Ian Karaka-Wilmott and made up of the 10 Members of Parliament for Rarotonga and one representative each from civil society, a non-governmental organisation, Te Aronga Mana and Public Health, said the environmental risks of the project were significant.

"Any major spillage would be detrimental to the surrounding reef and lagoon ecology, human health and well being, social and economic capacity of the Panama/Nikao area or for Rarotonga as a whole," they said in their decision.

The proposed location in Nikao was also an area known for extreme weather events.

"Tourism is one of the major economic benefits for this country and any accidents resulting in major spillage will ruin the Cook Islands image and economy.

"There is no guarantee that this project would result in lower fuel cost. Pacific Islands Energy did not provide a proper cost benefit analysis to justify the use of a non-renewable resource."

The REA noted the Ports Authority had limited capacity and resources to manage and respond to disasters such as oil spills and fire, both within and outside the harbour.

Nikao-Panama was a well-known fishing area and any fuel spillage there would affect the livelihood of locals, who were dependent on seafood from the area, the REA said.

The project was also inconsistent with the government’s commitment to the use of renewable and sustainable energy, the Authority said.

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