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Inadequate scrutiny of chicken project by DEPC under the spotlight at Bellevue meeting where developers refuse to be quoted
Residents of Bellevue and other areas of Port Vila met with Chiko Farm Products personnel Richard Nutley, Ken Thode and Mark Nutley Sunday at El Manaro nakamal to discuss the chicken farm and abattoir Chiko plans to build in the area.
As reported in this paper Saturday, while agreeing that such a project has merit there is much concern as to the siting of the facility particularly with it being within the town’s water protection zone. Along with the total absence of any consultative process, an apparent lack of transparency and due diligence on the part of the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC) within the approval process also has people worried.
Even before the meeting started, when the purpose and extent of the provisions of the water protection zones (WPZ) were being informally discussed and parts of the relevant documents read out and maps passed around, it was obvious that the developers had little or no previous savvy about them.
The agenda or purpose of the meeting was to find out the facts so that everyone knows exactly what development is planned, what the restrictions are and how they apply as well as how they are going to monitored and [hopefully to achieve] some resolutions.
From the outset the developers indicated they were not going to commit to anything, and while assuring the meeting that they had all approvals from every Ministry relevant to the ‘state of the art’ as they described it, project, went so far as to say: “If we are going to be quoted, then we’re not saying anything.” They were also particularly averse to the recording, for authenticity purposes, of what was said at the meeting.
We will therefore comply with their wishes and refrain from quoting them.
The general meeting however, was not so unwilling to have its views and rationale made available to the public. It was unanimous in agreeing that the furthering of a viable chicken industry in Vanuatu is commendable. However, the issue that participants other than the developers kept coming back to was the siting of this large scale poultry project adjacent to high end rural residential properties; small scale local and tourist orientated endeavours (such as the nakamal and a riding school which is expected to cater to adults and children wanting to learn the finer points of horse riding) and the potential for contamination of the Port Vila water supply from the waste such an endeavour will inevitably create.
There was discussion regarding the numbers of chickens to be housed and whether the project did in fact incorporate a chicken farm as well as an abattoir. At the meeting there was no clear resolution to this aspect with the developers continuing to insist that all necessary approvals had been got after weeks of filling out forms and so on. Any issues, they indicated, should therefore be taken up with the Government Ministries and departments concerned. They had, they maintained, done and got everything required of them.
After the meeting closed a newly arrived member of the public provided a copy of the DEPC’s Preliminary Environment Assessment that following some considerable trouble and not a few stern words, he had been able to secure from that Department late last week.
It was passed around the assembled crowd (minus the developers who had hightailed it as soon as the meeting concluded). The comments that ensued were mostly of the “stunned amazement” kind and no wonder.
The PEA stretches to the grand total of 8 pages of A4 size. Three of them are photos; one contains only three lines: ‘Prepared by Reedly Tari, EIA officer” and “Reviewed by Albert Williams” dated November 21, 2011.
The first page is a name-place-type summary.
Effectively this potentially huge development has therefore rated exactly three pages of big print, wide margins boxed “answer yes or no” options from the Department upon whose approval all others potentially follow suit.
The summary runs:
NAMES OF DEVELOPERS: “Richard Nutley and Kenneth Thode”
PROJECT: “Abattoir and Poultry Farm”
PERMIT OR LICENCE: “Approval of Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment”; LOCATION: “Bellevue Area, Port Vila”
PROVINCE: “SHEFA Province”
PROPERTY OWNERSHIP: “Lease”
TYPE AND PURPOSE OF ACTION: “The developers are proposing to build a poultry farm and an Abattoir at Bellevue area. The Toa Farm at Salili area will be leased by them for establishment of this project at Bellevue. There will be one Office, one Hatchery and an Abattoir including 15 sheds for meat hens and laying hens:”
Pertinent excerpts from the rest of it are:
Section 2: WATER QUALITY, QUANTITY AND DISTRIBUSTION: Are important surface or groundwater resources present? Is there potential for violation of ambient water quality standards, drinking water maximum contamination levels, or degradation of water quality?
“No. There are no surface or underground water resources on site. Only a seasonal creek nearby. There is a mentioned (sic) of streams that will be channeled to be used in the abattoir.”
Section 9: DEMANDS ON ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES OF LAND, WATER, AIR OR ENERGY: Will the project use resources that are limited in the area?
“Yes. Mentioned (sic) that water will be collected from streams up in the hills.”
Section 10: IMPACTS ON OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES: Are there other activities nearby that will be affected by the project?
“Yes. There is likely to be impacts on people using the horse racing (sic) premises especially with the smell.”
Section 13: HUMAN HEALTH AND SAFETY: will the project add to health and safety risks in the area?
“Yes. The only issue here is with the odor from the poultry farm. However, there are not many residents on site. The residents must be informed of the developments”.
Of course they weren’t, and their rights cannot just be cast aside with them “being informed”.
In Section 19: ACCESS TO AND QUALITY OF RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES: Are recreational areas nearby or accessed? the answers get even more obscure with
“Horse racing” being turned to “horse raising” school, but it is the final section, number 24: OTHER APPROPRIATE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CIRCUMSTANCES answered by Tari, compiler of the PEA: “Relocation and closure of the poultry farm at Salili will eliminate odor effects to the residents nearby” that says it all which is that the odor currently making Salili residents unhappy will simply be transferred to a new lot of residents in another area, and to the arriving and departing passengers at the airport to which the area for the proposed new chicken farm and abattoir is not only very close, but upwind most of the time – as the EIA compiler, inadvertently for his purposes to poohaa Bellevue residents concerns about the odour reaching them in the other direction, points out elsewhere.
And of course the more tangible downside for all of Port Vila’s residents is the relocation of such an industry into the water catchment area.
This area is guaranteed protection by the Water Resources Management Act (Cap 281) and the Matnakara Water Protection Zone (Tagabe river) Declaration published in Gazette Number 19 of 2004. Incredibly neither of these pieces of Vanuatu legislation is mentioned in the PEA.
The PEA concludes that no other potential site for the project has been presented, appraised or assessed by the DEPC; that “Approval should be given on the basis of the outcome of this PEA report” and “no modification was applicable at this stage of the vetting process.”
As this report goes to press the residents of Bellevue are ready and arming themselves for a long and bitter struggle if necessary to protect their interests and the interests of the greater population of Port Vila, all of which relies on a clean water supply for survival, against unsuitably sited developments whose potential to cause disaster have not been investigated thoroughly by those tasked with their approval.