MP Selena Napa says anyone who ignores due process and the laws of the country should face the consequences.
An Environment Service spokesman confirmed late last week that the man who purchased a lease over Vaerota 6Q has been verbally warned to remove a container and stop any work on the section.
According to the Environment Service, he will receive a letter of warning if he persists without REA approval and the matter referred to Crown Law to action.
“I think it’s about time we exercise the law to penalise people to let them know we’re not going to tolerate their nonsense, flouting the law and that the REA means business,” says Napa.
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) covering the Vaerota project drafted by Atatoa Herman was considered to be significantly flawed by a coastal engineer engaged by Te Ipukarea Society (TIS).
Herman’s report also stated that the Vaerota area was of no historical significance. Traditional chiefs, including the Kainuku family who own Vaerota land, have disputed Herman’s claim pointing out the area is steeped in history, their ancient marae is situated there and the coastal area acknowledged to be of cultural and historical significance.
Napa, who is a member of the REA, said it was very concerning that it appeared the country’s environmental laws were being disregarded in that REA approval is absolutely required before any project can proceed.
“The REA has received over 150 written submissions objecting to any development on Vaerota, including one signed by Kainuku Ariki and members of that chiefly tribe. Our traditional leaders have spoken out in opposition. There was an online petition that gained over 2000 signatures from people also opposing this, the REA cannot ignore all this, especially when some of the arguments against Vaerota development are well-presented and informed.”
Napa says she is aware that Vaerota coastal land has been included on a site inventory completed by the Ministry of Cultural Development (MOCD) in 2017. There are a total of 181 “potential historical sites in the Cook Islands that need further investigation and review as to whether they qualify for Registration and official classification under the Cook Islands Cultural and Historic Places Act 1994-95,” states the MOCD website.
It further states: “Established through the Cultural and Historic Places Act 1994-95, the Cook Islands Cultural and Historic Places Trust is designed to recognise and acknowledge various sites throughout the country that has an element of historic significance and/or traditional cultural importance.”
Napa says she wants to see MOCD revive the Historic Places and Sites Trust Board, “we can’t afford to be complacent about something this important. We can’t afford the luxury of taking our time. MODC has wake up out its slumber and address this right now. Maybe reappoint a new board that has the energy and vision to start work on formally registering sites of historic importance to our people.”
Former TIS officer and environmental activist Liam Kokaua says any development of Avana point is a real concern for all Cook Islanders and the wider Pacific community.
“The series of events which led to this piece of land is complex and slipped past many who probably wish they had tried to stop it earlier in the process. However, it is not too late to stop the development,” Kokaua said.
He says the government, through their Cultural and Historic Places Act need to intervene and assist the individual who purchased the land, and landowners to come to an agreement which protects this particular site, which should be turned into a national cultural reserve.
“I understand there was an overwhelming, record response against the EIA from resident Cook Islanders, as well as local cultural and environmental organisations, all of whom objected based on environmental and cultural concerns. What was the outcome of the NES review process of these submissions?”
Kokaua says it’s time cultural significance is included seriously as a factor which development projects must consider when submitting an EIA.
“There was nothing in the original (Herman) EIA about cultural significance of the site, despite being directly in between the renowned Vaerota Marae and the welcoming area (the ‘point’) for voyaging canoes coming through the Ava Tapu passage.”
He pointed out that on other side of Ava Tapu is Motu Tapu, and another equally sacred Marae. “These names also indicate the whole area was and remains of huge cultural and spiritual importance to our people. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the newly appointed Director of Environment Service to show an early display of leadership and intervene in this development (in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture) before it is too late.”
Kokaua believes there are already many submissions sent in by Cook Islanders outlining their concerns which have not yet been addressed by NES.
“The Cook Islands have benefitted from displaying of our cultural traditions and voyaging culture for a long time, but allowing this development to take place would lead to embarrassment in the face of our fellow Pacific Islands who have similar voyaging cultures and who understand the significance of this area.”
Kokaua will be completing a Marsters of Indigenous Studies at Auckland University.
- Release/Democratic Party