Environment experts: Issue was raised

The affected area near the Wainisavulevu weir. Picture: SUPPLIED

ENVIRONMENT experts had expressed concerns to the Government and the then-Fiji Electricity Authority about the raising of the Wainisavulevu weir before it was upgraded, but received no response, they said yesterday.

Dick Watling and Marika Tuiwawa were responding to claims by EFL chairman Daksesh Patel on Monday that no concerns had been raised about the project. At a press conference on Monday, Mr Patel had asked why environmentalists were raising the issue now.

“If they were so aware of the environment impact and damage and subsequent impact of building such a dam, if they were so cautious of the environment, then they could have raised it through your newspaper,” he said.

But in a statement issued yesterday, NatureFiji MareqetiViti (NFMV) said it was alerted about the proposal to raise the weir in 2010 when Dr Watling, then NFMV’s director, was approached by engineers to provide consulting services for the weir project.

NFMV said Dr Watling knew the site because he had spent time there searching for one of Fiji’s most endangered birds.

NFMV said Dr Watling told the engineers that raising the weir would have a significant environmental impact in an area technically described as a “site of national significance”.

In a July 2010 email to then director for environment, Jope Davetanaivalu, Dr Watling expressed NFMV’s concern about the project’s environmental impact. “I hope that the EIA (environmental impact assessment) is suitably rigorous,” Dr Watling told Mr Davetanaivalu.

Mr Davetanaivalu responded to Dr Watling, telling him that they had already been given the EIA for the project and that he would get back to him.

NFMV said Dr Watling did not hear back. “Dr Watling was able to view the EIA at the department’s register and found that it had been approved already in 2008.

“This was news to (Dr Watling) and the entire conservation sector,” NFMV said.

“The terms of reference had been written by the consultants, and were accepted by the Department of Environment unmodified.”

‚ÄúThere had been no national consultation, no consultation with the conservation sector or specialists, and no public review of the EIA, as would be due process for a major project in a site of national significance.”

NFMV said in a statement yesterday it tried to work with the authorities on environmental issues.

“Dr Watling raised the issue with the authority responsible and assumed that appropriate action would ensue. This is the manner NFMV works.

“(NFMV) does not raise issues directly with the media, but when contacted by the media, landowners or legitimate stakeholders and asked for a professional opinion, then NFMV certainly responds.

“If NFMV went to the media every time we came across or were contacted about a serious issue, we would spend the whole time in the newspapers. “NFMV has to work in the conditions it finds itself to make as much impact as it can in a positive manner,” NFMV director Nunia Moko said yesterday.

Mr Tuiwawa, an environmentalist and University of the South Pacific researcher, said he had been heavily involved in research and study of the Monasavu and Wainisavulevu areas for the past two decades. He said he had advised against the raising of the weir.

“I was involved in phase one of the Wainisavulevu weir and I told the FEA (now EFL), not to raise the weir any more because the area behind can be flooded.

“In actual fact I told them don’t raise the weir (Wainisavulevu) because if you raise the weir, the entire dry flat land in the area will be flooded, and will change the whole landscape of the area. That was my recommendation to FEA,” Mr Tuiwawa said.

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