Opposition to Te Mato Wai water project in Rarotonga
Some Rarotonga locals are petitioning against a huge government water project that will cost 73 million dollars.
The Te Mato Vai water project, one of the largest infrastructure projects to be undertaken in the Cook Islands, is being officially launched today.
However, some people, who are against the project, say it is too expensive and not well thought out, and want its construction to be postponed until all other options are explored.
Mary Baines filed this report.
Under Te Mato Vai, a new water system will be installed, including UV treatment, improved storage capacity and new ring mains which will deliver clean drinking water to all properties connected to the existing network in Rarotonga. But the Te Mato Vai Petition Committee says when it gets 1,000 signatures, it will apply for a High Court injunction to postpone the project. So far, the group has collected about 500 signatures. Its organiser, James Thomson, says locals are concerned that the 60 million New Zealand dollar price-tag has skyrocketed to almost 73 million dollars.
JAMES THOMSON: If we get 1,000 which is quite a significant number of people here, we are actually looking to put in a high court injunction. Not to stop it, but many people have said they want a good fool-proof water system and we reckon that systems can be built at a far cheaper rate, 50 million dollars cheaper, and we can actually make sure that it is drought-proof.
Mr Thomson says some people do not want to have to pay for treated water once the project is completed. And he says much of the current piping system does not need to be replaced.
JAMES THOMSON: We should be able to get at least another 30 plus years out of it. And then if we use relining which is what they have been doing in Australia, without having to dig them up at a far cheaper rate, you can get another 50 years plus out of them. Our belief for a lot of us is that combined with other debt the country has, you know it will tip it to a point where it's almost going to bankrupt us again.
Mr Thomson says most decisions were made before the public consultation process.But the Financial Secretary and the project's supervisor, Richard Neves, says the consultation process has been robust, and is continuing.
RICHARD NEVES: It's been a very intense period of consultation and I think it has been a very robust and reasonable one that has involved a lot of the community. We recognise that you're going to have a certain level of fear or mistrust about these things, but governments can spend money on a lot of things. The provision of water to people I don't think is such a bad thing.
Mr Neves says the piping system has a 70 percent leakage rate and water is constantly wasted. And he says because water is free in Rarotonga, it is used in excess.
RICHARD NEVES: People emptying out their pools quite frequently to clean them out and then refill them again, and it comes at no extra cost. Farmers whose practices are to water in the middle of a very, very hot day using very inefficient sprinklers. So we have some very inefficient practices that arise because the demand for water isn't managed through price.
Mr Neves says in three years, businesses will start paying for water, and in five years, households will start paying for water only when used above their free allocation. He says the master plan is not yet completed which means some of the existing infrastructure may still remain. As funding donors to the project, the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, and the Chinese Ambassador accredited to the Cook Islands, Wang Lutong, have flown to Rarotonga to attend the launch ceremony.
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