While Brider says NES opposed an initial proposal to bury all waste from the Raromart fire on site, with the exception of scrap metal, a revised proposal allowing the burial of concrete slabs only was approved.
“A proposal was discussed to bury all the Raromart waste on site with the exception of the scrap metal, which could be sent to General Transport,” Brider explained.
“NES opposed the burial of toxic/hazardous waste on and around the site. NES then requested that a new proposal be drafted and then considered by NES and Public Health.
“The new proposal recommended that the hazardous material be separated from the scrap metal and concrete slabs. The proposal further identified that scrap metal be sent to General Transport and the concrete slabs be buried adjacent to the Raromart site and covered with soil brought onto the site.”
Brider said that the revised proposal was reviewed by NES and Public Health, then consulted upon with Infrastructure Cook Islands, contractor T&M Heather, Raromart and the property owner.
“After reviewing the revised proposal with agreement from all parties, the proposal was approved.”
Contractors began work on burying the concrete slabs on Monday, but photos taken by CINews that same day show a mass of what appears to be hazardous waste material left over from the fire that has been partially covered with gravel and clay.
In some places the gravel-covered waste had also been levelled off, as if the intention – at the time the photos were taken – was for it to remain buried on site in the wetland area inland from Raromart.
After being alerted to this activity, Brider said a site visit had taken place on Tuesday and that subsequently the NES had decided that none of the waste, including the concrete slabs, would be buried adjacent to the Raromart site.
He also said that the contract workers had told him “they were only piling the hazardous materials which were destined to eventually go to landfill”.
“It wasn’t intended to be buried on the site.”
Brider said the timing of the NES decision and CINews’ discovery of the partially buried waste was coincidental however, and noted that it was “unfortunate that the timing creates a perception of this being a reaction rather than proactive response from NES”.
Instead, Brider said that their site visit had “identified that concrete was not being sufficiently separated and so NES took steps to meet with the contractor”.
“With the agreement of the landowner and other involved parties, the decision to cease the burial and remove all buried material was made on Tuesday.
“The decision to change the terms of the approval was because the contractors could not ensure that the concrete slabs were free from the other waste – i.e. they couldn’t move the concrete slabs to the burial site without picking up other waste which was not approved for burial.”
Asked why the hazardous waste had been covered with gravel and clay and levelled off if the contractors were only stockpiling it to move later, Brider said: “I think this is in reference to the concrete slabs which were levelled off with gravel and clay brought in from off site.
The stockpiles refer to the scrap metal and waste destined for the landfill.”