Holes dug on the beach were ordered to be filled in by NES staff after it was found the machine was being operated without a permit.
Turangi residents contacted the newspaper to complain after seeing a digger operating on the beach next to the Tropical Sands.
National Environment Services (NES) director Joseph Brider confirmed no project permit for the excavation had been issued by the Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA). The REA is the board of NES and the decision-making authority for all permits and consents issued under the Environment Act.
Brider said the NES had investigated the work and found the digger had been used to excavate holes to plant trees.
When NES staff visited the site the property owner and machinery operator were not however, they were later contacted by phone and told that because they didn’t have a permit, the work had to stop.
NES also told the property owner the holes must be filled in and that no other work was to be done until a project permit was issued.
“The property owner does have a project permit application being processed through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) provisions of the Environment Act 2003,” said Brider.
“The process is still underway and the property owner will be informed of the REA’s decision when it is made.
“The property owner has complied with the order and the holes have been filled in with the same material that was dug out.”
While legal action was an option, the NES regarded that as a last resort, and in this case was satisfied the owner had complied with orders to stop the work, said Brider.
The complaint about the work at Tropical Sands was followed by another last week from an island resident distressed about digging operations on the beach just past the seawall, opposite Apii Nikao.
However, the manager of the Advisory Compliance Division at NES, Vavia Tangatataia said the digging was part of an ongoing activity by the Airport Authority and had been approved by the REA.
“The permit allows the Airport Authority to carry out stream outlet clearance at three sites, which are the drain outlets on both ends of the airport (seawall and the Islander Hotel), and also the outlet near the Airport Security office,” Tangatataia said.
“The clearance works are airport safety measures in preventing water backlog and flooding around the airport, especially at this time of the year.”
The work takes around a day for each site, depending on the tides. Meanwhile, Brider says the NES is currently working through the legal process for the Environment Act to be more inclusive of sand mining activity.
He was commenting on a site between Rutaki and Vaimaanga, where T&M Heather workers were photographed digging sand from a large pit on the inland side of the road recently.
“The Rutaki site is outside of the areas of concern under the Environment Act and does not need a permit.
“However, NES staff do monitor the site,” Brider said.
- Conor Leathley/CS