Saturday 13 May 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion
It has been close to two weeks since I have lodged a formal complaint to your offices, TTV (To Tatou Vai) and NES (National Environment Service), expressing my serious reservations about the ongoing issues of water streams contamination and pollution of the land and environment affecting our cherished Cook Islands community.
Despite the severity of my concerns and the potential implications on our community and environment, I am yet to receive any response or update on the progress made in addressing these issues. This lack of communication from both NES and TTV is distressing, to say the least, it leaves me in a state of uncertainty and doubt about your commitment to resolving the matters at hand.
I must underscore that my intention is not to disappear from this dialogue like a genie lost in a puff of smoke. Quite the contrary, the Cook Islands is where I hail from, where my roots lie, and where my heart will always return. As such, I am profoundly invested in ensuring the welfare and prosperity of our community.
It is disheartening that my attempts to engage directly with you have thus far been unfruitful. It seems as though my concerns have been disregarded, akin to an unwanted object stuck to the underside of a shoe, rather than treated as valid issues requiring immediate attention. It begs the question: is it time for me to seek legal intervention to ensure my voice is heard?
This is the first and, I hope, the last time I will have to resort to such an assertive request. It is certainly not my desire to escalate this matter further. However, the lack of action or even acknowledgment from your departments is pushing me towards a precipice.
Should this situation escalate due to negligence, indifference, or a simple lack of respect - the list, unfortunately, is long - I, along with the rest of the Atu Enua, will be left with no choice but to seek reparation. We will require and demand appropriate compensation for the detrimental impacts that result from the lack of due process, ineffective monitoring, inadequate training, and general unawareness exhibited by your respective departments.
I urge you to consider the gravity of the situation and take immediate steps to rectify the current scenario. Our community deserves accountability and transparency from its institutions. Let’s work together to ensure the Cook Islands remain the paradise we all know and love.
Awaiting your prompt response.
Kia Orana Editor,
We wish to respond to the letter from Wayne Mitchell regarding his concerns of water streams contamination and pollution and the actions undertaken by the National Environment Service (NES).
Firstly, the claims that NES has lack of communication on this matter is incorrect. A face-to-face meeting was conducted between NES (Director and Senior Environmental Compliance Officer) and Wayne in early May 2023. A response from NES has now been sent to Wayne to communicate our findings on his three videos sent: (1) To Tatou Vai (TTV) intake water catchment area, (2) scour ponds, (3) and the direct release of sediments to the streams. We explained and elaborated on the system and process for the water treatment plants and the work undertaken by NES to obtain technical expertise on this matter and assess any concerning environmental impact.
Secondly, NES has provided to the public a briefing paper on the technical findings and considerations for To Tatou Vai Project Permit #2021/004RAR on all water intakes, and Project Permit #2021/019RAR on the Temporary sludge facility. The briefing paper included assessments on:
• Coarse screening at the stream intake
• Sedimentation (settling): Removal of suspended sediment material and colour in a settling tank including the use of a coagulant to enhance removal efficacy.
• Filtration: Passing settled water through a sand or multimedia filter for further removal of suspended materials including microbiological contaminants and provision for disinfection of treated water if disinfection used.
The briefing paper answers the concerns raised by Wayne. The recommendations in the briefing paper noted overall compliance with dissolved aluminium trigger levels at all 10 Water Treatment Plant discharge sites and provided key recommendations to improve reporting and operations for consideration by the Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA). The article and briefing paper can be downloaded from the NES website https://environment.gov.ck/rea-extends-to-tatou-vais-eia-permit-for-another-90-days-with-new-conditions/.
Lastly, NES is reviewing the Permit Conditions for To Tatou Vai following a full technical assessment of the environmental impact. A summary paper of the technical findings will be made available to the public after the REA has considered the project application planned for late May 2023.
NES has sought suitable technical expertise to ensure decisions by the REA is supported by science and is evidence-based. NES has taken measures to improve the management of the water treatment plants and sludge to ensure our environment is protected. Technical capacity development is also a core focus to ensure there is knowledge transferred to the Environmental Compliance Department.
National Environment Service
Kia Orana Editor,
Thank you for inviting our comments on the letter sent to you by Mr. Wayne Mitchell.
The management of sludge has been, and continues to be, conducted through a robust process which requires EIAs (environmental impact assessments) and approval from the National Environment Service (NES).
Not only has TTV engaged experts to prepare the EIAs needed, the NES itself engaged its own expert from Australia. He has produced a voluminous report and the NES has taken this into account, and the submissions of objectors, before issuing its permits which are subject to strict conditions.
With the emotion taken out of them, Mr. Mitchel’s complaints are not meritless. For example, the NES expert has expressed concern that the scour ponds overflow during times of heavy rain and diversion of water from the scour ponds is desirable. Also, the arms which are designed to take the supernatant from the surface water on some of the scour ponds needs adjusting. TTV is working on those issues.
Ultimately the importance lies in ensuring the integrity of the streams and the marine life in them. In this regard the quantity of water travelling down the stream is relevant to the supernatant you can put into it. The water is sampled upstream and downstream. Certain guidelines must be, and are being met by our team at TTV.
I might add and reaffirm that in all of this, the relationship with all landowners is very important. I did meet and speak with Mr. Mitchell, but it is clear on certain matters his views are definitive and his mind is closed. It is not correct that TTV has failed to respond. But Mr. Mitchell’s idea of dialogue is for TTV to say what he wants to hear and that, of course, is quite different from engaging in a conversation.
Once again, I thank you for this opportunity to respond.
William M. Tuivaga
To Tatou Vai