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Bay of uncertainty

Torika Tokalau
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

LILY Todd remembers when the Suva Harbor was in its majestic form, untouched, unspoilt before damaged ships permanently anchored themselves, before the chemicals and rubbish from factories polluted the waters, before any of the mangroves were cut down for development.

At 76-years old, Lily is the oldest resident at Uduya Point having lived there since 1948. She remembers how beautiful the Suva Harbor looked at dusk during sunset and how the sun seemed to glisten on the water at sunset.

She remembers seeing villagers at Wailekutu, Navakavu and other settlements fishing nearby and gathering what they could when the tide went out to feed their families.

Now, the only thing left of the majestic Suva Harbor and its abundant supply of mangroves is the last stand of viable mangroves at Draunibota Bay. That too however, could be destroyed in a few months.

The livelihoods of about 100 families will be affected and a considerable portion of mangroves in Lami will be destroyed if the proposed development of the foreshore at Draunibota Bay goes ahead.

Pacific Building (Fiji) Solutions Limited (PBS) has proposed to subdivide and develop 1.3935 hectares of freehold land at Lot 1, Waibola, in Wailekutu, a residential zone, and further lease the foreshore State land that consists of more than 14 hectares of mangrove and shrub land in the Wailekutu flood plain, about 11km from Lami Town.

PBS proposes to construct their main headquarters and have access to the foreshore for the purpose of sea transportation using its own barge and launches to load and offload containers and cargoes for heavy civil engineering works.

The development proposal, divided into three phases, proposed stage one to construct a jetty and wharf, a container yard, 10 lots for commercial complex, reclamation of the proposed 4.5 hectares of foreshore and tidal flat for construction of a maritime facility, deepening of immediate mud flat through dredging, sourcing landfill and marine slipway for boat repairs and maintenance.

The Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources have confirmed they had received an application for development on the area from PBS.

"The application we have is for 12 acres and that is what we will base our decision as was advertised in the dailies (October 5, 2012)," the ministry's permanent secretary Tevita Boseiwaqa said.

However in PBS' application for the foreshore development of Lot 1 Waibola dated February 2, 2012 to the ministry and obtained by this newspaper, they (PBS) are seeking a development lease approval for the entire 36 acres.

"The area will depend on the final survey which can be more or less," Mr Boseiwaqa said when questioned about the application for the entire 36 acres.

PBS has already begun their development plans. A requirement of a proposed development is an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was conducted on May 19, 2011 by Envi-Green Pacific Consultancy, a consultant hired by PBS.

In their report, completed in August, it stated, "this (development) will provide Draunibota Bay an opportunity to facelift its current image as a hazardous maritime place since it has become a sanctuary of old discarded ships and launches now partly submerged on offshore mudflats from the project site."

It goes on to say that the "proposed development is aimed at developing land to inject income for the developers and for providing employment and investment opportunities for locals."

But the Bay of Islands Preservation Group, made up of residents in the area from Wailekutu, Veisari and Panaromic Heights which Lily is a part of have spoken out strongly against the development proposed for an industrial city at Draunibota Bay.

They obtained a legal opinion from the Environmental Law Association (ELA) on the EIA report and confirmed that it was indeed incomplete as a vital part of the EIA was consultation with relevant stakeholders.

"A large component of an EIA requires public participation and consultation. The consultants that conducted the EIA did not involve the relevant stakeholders and these relevant stakeholders included the residents themselves," ELA coordinator Kiji Vukikomoala said.

"Another issue we saw from the EIA conducted was that most of the report was not made public which is a requirement under the Environmental Management Act 2005. In regards to the EIA, there was a lack of accountability and consultation made."

PBS, however, stands by the EIA report, saying they have followed all correct procedures expected from the Ministry of Lands.

These procedures included preparing and lodging an EIA of the site by a recognised consultant that was approved by the Department of Environment on January 12th, 2011; advertising of the Foreshore Lease application- carried out in The Fiji Times on October 5th and 12th, 2012 and twice in government gazette as required by the Ministry of Lands procedure; acquiring approval by traditional fishing ground owners as witnessed by the roko tui Rewa and acquiring support of their proposal from villages and settlements within one kilometre of the proposed site.

"We have also had discussions for future business opportunities with the traditional fishing ground owners from Navakavu," Michael Fairfax the managing director of PBS said in a statement.

Landowners from Navakavu confirm they are in discussions with PBS. They say they have yet to agree to the proposed development.

"We met with PBS once last month where they showed us their proposal. A second meeting will be held shortly where we have asked that Mr Fairfax be present. We will make our decision soon," one of the landowners Taniela Vueta Bani said.

Mr Boseiwaqa confirmed they had received the EIA report and all information was made readily available to the residents.

He added a decision on the proposed development is still pending, awaiting comments from relevant stakeholders which includes the Director Environment, Department of Town and Country Planning, Ministry of Fisheries, Fiji Islands Maritime Safety Administration, the Mineral Resources Department and the roko tui Rewa.

"Application (for the proposed development) has been received but it is still in the infancy stages," Mr Boseiwaqa said.

Lily is outraged that government is even considering such a proposal given the number of people in the area that depend on Draunibota Bay for their livelihood.

"We are not against development, nor are we against creating employment for people but why this area? Why can't they consider the concerns of the residents here and how their lives will be affected too? This proposal is ridiculous!"

Lily's younger sister, Sharon Light said the whole development plans were going ahead without any consideration of its effects to the environment.

"We are taught, and even children understand that mangroves are a nursery for many fish species and marine animals. The Veisari Basin orchid is found in this bay, a priceless rare species, are we to allow its destruction too? This beautiful bay is the only beauty spot on the waterfront in the Suva foreshore.

"I shudder to think of the once beautiful view of a peaceful bay being converted into a commercial wasteland."

In March this year, the Bay of Islands Preservation Group circulated a petition that was signed by 140 residents, 90 of which live approximately within the 1km zone of Draunibota Bay objecting to the proposed development by PBS.

Draunibota Bay is designated as a resource reserve under The Lands Department 1986 National Mangrove Management Plan.

Only time will tell what will be the fate of the mangroves. For now, residents living in the area including Lily are the voices of the mangroves, demanding that they not be cut down and reserved as a historical site — a slice of Suva Harbor to be left unspoilt by the fast-evolving world of development.

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