23rd March 12:02 AM
Malolo landowners lawyer claims no one came to stop resort developer damaging the environment
By Vijay Narayan
Saturday 09/02/2019
Freesoul Real Estate is accused of illegally dredging 5000 m2 of reef without approval [Photo: Facebook]

The lawyer for the landowners adjoining the Freesoul resort development on Malolo Island, Doctor Ken Chambers says Freesoul had started developing and were underway by late May 2018 and the lawyer says their extensive photographic evidence shows the sea bed reclamation and channel digging.

Doctor Chambers says the reality is that Freesoul started its development before their Environmental Impact Assessment had even been submitted in mid‑June to the Department of Environment.

He also claims that the 4 stop work orders were issued by the Department from 1st June 2018 however no one on the site stopped working.

Doctor Chambers claims that not one institution amidst all of government departments involved stopped them. He claims that between May and September 2018, the hillside was stripped, big areas of mangrove destroyed, 2 channels were smashed through the seabed and a timber walkway built.

The lawyer says all this was done without any Environment Impact Assessment approval. He says you have to ask how is this even probable let alone possible.

He says the Department of Environment has been consistently informed of Freesoul’s non‑compliance with the legislative requirements, yet nothing had been done to stop them.

A huge channel through the reef for barge access [Photo: Facebook]

Doctor Chambers says they had objected to the 2nd iteration of the Freesoul Environmental Impact Assessment on 28th October 2018. He says the first response to that was an email from Director of Environment on 30th January 2019. Doctor Chambers says this was a month after the Director had already given the developer Environmental Impact Assessment approval in December 2018 and the appeal period of 21 days had expired.

He says if the government were going to prosecute Freesoul back in September 2018 for breaches of the Environment Act someone needs to tell them it is now February 2019.

Doctor Chambers says all the institutions were on notice from them from 30th August 2018 when the lawyer sent them pictures of the work. He says the officials did site inspections, but they did nothing to stop the work.

Ministry of Environment seeks to prosecute company for violating terms of development

Minister for Waterways and Environment Dr. Mahendra Reddy confirms that a resort that is under construction on Malolo Island in the Mamanuca Group has violated the terms of its development as were clearly outlined by the Department of Environment.

The Ministry is working closely with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to see that the company in question which is Freesoul Real Estate Development(Fiji)Ptd Ltd, is prosecuted on the offences and environmental damage they have incurred on the island of Malolo.

The case was filed for prosecution to the Office of DPP in September of 2018.

The Department's involvement with the Malolo Island project began on June 15, 2017, when the company lodged their environmental impact assessment screening application with the intent to build a new resort.

Residents allege that raw sewage flow into the mangroves destroying their fishing grounds [Photo: Facebook]

The Ministry says initially, the proposed resort was to include overwater villas, restaurants, a club and a casino, as well as beachfront units, ridge units, a kindergarten, a spa, and back‑of‑house facilities.

Meanwhile, after conducting their required environmental assessment, the number of accommodation units permitted by the Department was reduced from the initially‑planned from 351 to 102, and the decision was made not to permit a casino.

The Minister affirms that the Department of Environment, in carrying out the environmental assessment, ensured that all legislative requirements required under the Environment Management Act 2005 were followed.

The Ministry adds the assessment involved field investigations, a community presentation at the Solevu Village Community Hall in Malolo and household community surveys conducted within Solevu village.

They say after the completed environmental impact assessment report was received from the company in July 2018, the Ministry began a thorough review process which included giving the general public an opportunity to state their views on the report.

The Ministry says a public consultation meeting was held in Solevu Village to present the findings of the report back to the community, and a review committee was established to examine and analyze the report.

The Department of Environment has also been in continuous discussions with both the Fiji Hotel Tourism Association and various hoteliers in the Malolo region to gain their input to the proposed development.

They took all feedback into consideration, and consequently, a scaled‑back version of the project was approved in December 2018.

They say the approved development would strictly allow for land based‑development which is a conscious decision to minimise any environmental impact.

The Department says as a condition of the approval, the company was given a number of very stringent conditions to fulfill before works were begin on site, and all foreshore development works were not permitted, these conditions have been breached.

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