Starting this month, materials will begin to be sent to the northern group island in preparation for an estimated March start date for construction, said Infrastructure Cook Islands secretary Mac Mokoroa.
The schedule could be affected by weather due to the ongoing cyclone season, he added.
Mokoroa said the island’s Tauhunu and Tukao harbours were severely damaged in 1997 from Cyclone Martin, prohibiting the island’s communities from accessing and using the facilities for fishing and the safe unloading of cargo.
In 2008, Tukao harbour was rehabilitated with new quay walls and landings. Materials for the Tauhunu harbour were also shipped to the island, however work did not commence and the harbour has been left as is.
According to 2013-14 budget documents, $2.8m has been allocated for the project – to come from the national budget.
“The overall objective of the project is to build up the Cook Islands resilience to natural disasters and to strengthen disaster management capacities,” said Mokoroa.
The project has been criticised by opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen, who alleged that Prime Minister Henry Puna – who represents Manihiki as member of parliament – “bullied” Cabinet to give the project the green light.
Additional criticism has come through several letters to CINews, with one writer calling the project “money down the drain”, saying “Manihiki already has an existing harbour facility which is more than adequate to cater to that small atoll’s existing and future shipping requirements.”
Late last week, Mokoroa refuted those arguments in a letter to the editor, saying the writer “should not base his or her decisions on the economy of scale and the low level of population in Manihiki or any of the outer islands who are seeking or aiming to receive the same level of services as here in Rarotonga.”
“For the people of Manihiki who have waited for over 17 years to get this particular harbour rehabilitated, this is a sigh of relief,” he said.