By Julien Pretot
PARIS, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Paris 2024 organisers have switched plans for the installation of an aluminium tower on Tahiti's Teahupo'o site for the Olympic surfing competition following local opposition as residents claimed the planned construction would damage the coral reef.
The idyllic lagoon-side village has long hosted some of the best events on the professional World Surf League's (WSL) championship tour, using a modest wooden tower for judges on the reef which is dismantled after every event.
Paris 2024, which has highlighted its ambition to minimise the environmental impact of the Games, was planning to spend nearly $5 million to build a much larger tower with toilets, air-conditioning and space for 40 people which it says is needed to meet safety standards.
An online petition calling for the scrapping of plans for the 14-metre (45 foot) aluminium scaffolding and 800m (half-mile) service channel through the reef had gathered more than 160,000 signatures.
A new tower will be installed, but it will be smaller and lighter in order to minimise the impact on the environment.
"Based on thorough analysis of the different options and the priorities shared by the various stakeholders, the project for a new tower that is less imposing and substantially reduced in size and weight was judged to be the best option," Paris 2024 said in a joint statement with the French Polynesia government and the Haut Commissariat (French State representation in Polynesia) on Friday.
"This presents the advantage of being able to reduce the depth of drilling for the foundations of the tower and allow the use of a barge with a shallower draught during the construction phase."
The tower will weigh nine tons instead of the planned 14 tons and will be 150 square metres - compared to the planned 200 sqm.
French Polynesia president Moetai Brotherson said last week that the surfing events for the Summer Games could be moved to Taharuu, on Tahiti's West coast.
"Work to lighten the tower will make it possible to reduce the depth of drilling for the foundations. A new, smaller motorised barge, with a shallow draught (20 cm), will be used to transport the equipment and guarantee easier access to the lagoon, without any risk of damage to the coral," the joint statement said.
"The (local) associations will shortly be invited to come and check this route during an in situ test with the new barge, loaded with drilling equipment."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)
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