Held at the USP campus in Takamoa, the meeting was attended by a small but vocal group of residents keen to learn more about the wastewater management project and share their views on the two wastewater disposal options on the table.
Muri has been the focal point of previous consultations meetings as a priority area. Investigation work is already underway to determine thSe source of the lagoon issues.
Finance Secretary Garth Henderson emphasised the importance of consultation meetings, an avenue for the project management unit (PMU) to reach out to the public and for the community to give their views and feedback on the direction the project needs to take to ensure the best decisions are made to improve wastewater management on Rarotonga.
“We will keep doing outreach to you and from you because we need to broaden our knowledge base to raise awareness and help us progress this project,” says Henderson.
“The fact is, our current system is not working, especially in built-up areas like the high tourism focus in Muri. Not just Muri, but right across Rarotonga.”
Henderson said due to the range of environmental conditions across Rarotonga, solutions would be different for each area.
“The final solution will be a combination of things due to the climate of Rarotonga. It’s going to be complex with various aspect to be considered including policy setting, but the urgency is still there.”
He said there were no quick fixes, and hard decisions needed to be made to address the issue of wastewater management on Rarotonga.
Members of the project management unit, including key science and environmental experts, addressed questions and concerns from the public on the two wastewater disposal options presented.
Option one is a land disposal facility and option two an ocean outflow disposal plan.
Concerns raised at the meeting centred around marine health and the effects an ocean outflow would have on the struggling environment.
Jackie Rongo highlighted the invasive and destructive taramea (crown of thorns) outbreak which has caused widespread damage to the reef, which is still recovering from an outbreak around 20 years ago. She said waste outflow material could fuel a more severe outbreak.
The consensus was that the wastewater issue on Rarotonga certainly needs to be addressed. However, technical solutions will need to be environmentally, socially and culturally acceptable as well as economically viable.
No price tags were put on either of the two wastewater disposal options, as the project is still in the concept stage with scientific investigations ongoing in the Muri area to test groundwater, streams, lagoon sediments and lagoon water for nitrogen and phosphorous (nutrients).
Of particular concern at the meeting for members of the public from the Muri and Avana areas, were the immediate negative effects of poor circulation in the lagoon, including a blockage in Avana harbour.
Reuben Tylor asked why, after much discussion at previous consultation meetings, no dredging had been done in the area.
“If this is not addressed now and dealt with, this will cause long term damage to tourism. So why hasn’t anything been done yet?”
Long time Ngatangiia resident Tupe Short agreed with the idea of dredging the harbour, adding that he had seen many changes over the years to the lagoon and believed dredging was the best solution to improve water circulation.
In response to dredging concerns, PMU project manager Evan Mayson said the unit was taking a cautious approach to dredging the harbour. He said it was believed this would be only a short term fix, citing the fact that the chances of the dredged area filling back up were highly likely. Environment experts from the PMU have been investigating the issue to determine how the sediment builds up in the lagoon and how the “bottleneck” areas are affecting the flushing out out of the lagoon. “We’re currently preparing an Environmental Impact Assessment for the Vaiterenga stream sediment removal (near Pacific Resort), with plans to do the dredging work early next year,” said Mayson.
The PMU say they are looking at a number of dredging options and any adverse impacts these may cause to the lagoon and marine environment.
New Zealand High Commission representatives at the meeting said they supported the cautious approach being taken.
The PMU team were urged by some people to “just get on with it,” but Finance Secretary Garth Henderson was quick to point out that Aronga Mana would not accept just anything that was thrust upon them.
However, in showing understanding for the concerns from the Muri and Avana residents on the dredging matter, Henderson, in his closing remarks said perhaps the PMU could take more risks and recognise short term remedies as they navigated through the complex nature of wastewater management to make the hard decisions.
“We will make the hard decisions, but we want to hear more from our community over many more consultation meetings, grow our knowledge base so we can come up with a technical solution that is socially and culturally acceptable as well as economical.”
Henderson also agreed to a point raised on the night about the need for more public education on the project.
- Matariki Wilson