Quarry a scar in fynbos valley

THE Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM) has called on the Green Scorpions to investigate a Parson’s Vlei stone quarry project which, they say, is flouting several key metro conservation and development plans. The controversy over the project has erupted, ironically, a few days after the metro’s celebration of its bio-regional plan. The milestone plan seeks to chart a path for sustainable development by overlaying conservation and development needs.


But the site of the stone quarry, on a belt of pristine fynbos north of the vlei, falls within an area identified in the plan as “a core area of conservation importance”, a participant at last week’s function at the Feathermarket Hall said.


Contacted for comment, Metro Quarries said only that their operation has been approved by the department of mineral resources (DMR).


Although the department failed to respond to questions sent to them last week, this approval was confirmed by senior NMBM conservation officer Wesley Berrington.


But Berrington said the department appeared to have taken no account in issuing its ruling of the metro’s plans for the area or of the impact of the quarry on the environment.


“The site is on Anglican Church land but the church set aside this land historically for the metro to develop a green corridor which was going to extend through Van der Kemp’s Kloof Nature Reserve to Swartkops River and through Bridgemead and Hopewell out to the Van Stadens and eventually Groendal.


“It was going to be used to link up the Guinea Fowl Trail and the Baakens River Valley in a great loop through the city for the enjoyment of all residents.


“Now, exactly where this trail would have been – there is a big scar.”


This historical plan has been recognised by at least one assessment of  a previous mining application, with the ruling that there should be no mining east of Mission Road, he said.


“The assessment was not done for the site now under discussion – but it is the same area, and it should have been taken into account by the department. But they seem to have taken no notice of it.”


The site has been developed on a tract of virgin fynbos and it was clear when he visited the site that a number of protected plants have been crushed by the excavated rubble, he said.


“Just one example is the watsonias. This is a relatively common species but it is protected and you need a permit from the provincial environment department before you can damage or remove these species. There is nothing in the documentation that indicates that this permit has been obtained.”


As The Herald noted when we visited the site last week, the quarry is operating above a vlei area. The stream that runs through this area runs into Van der Kemp’s Kloof Nature Reserve, Berrington said. Despite the presence of Kuyga township to the south-west, the stream is purified by wetlands as it runs north-east and it becomes crystal clear, he said.


“It is home to bullfrog species which are range restricted to that area.”


Berrington said that although DMR is a key player in considering mining applications, the department has to by law take into account all environmental impacts.


“But the only remotely environmental part in the permit issued by them refers to what must be done with fossils if they are found.


“It makes no sense. I have already discussed the whole matter with regional green scorpions’ director Div de Villiers and I e-mailed him all the the details and concerns today.”


A reliable source in the land planning sector said the area is important because of its size and unspoilt character. It provides several free eco-system services to the metro including clean fresh water and contains “one of the last significant tracts” of grassy fynbos, a vulnerable veld type.


“This is one of our crown jewels. Approving a quarry operation in this area seems highly questionable.”


A copy of the environmental management plan (EMP) prepared by Stellenryck Environmental Solutions for the project says the aim is to extract 150000 cubic metres of quartzite from the 1.5ha site. The applicant company is named as Almenta 46 and Mawethu Civils is noted as the company that has committed to buy the stone.


The EMP notes that while the area is transformed from its natural character, “the site is still undisturbed and still has an intact ecological system.”


It emphasises the need for rehabilitation of the site but says “no complete remedy is anticipated over the short term.


“Since this is not a conservation area the need to maintain biodiversity is not a prerequisite.”


Stellenryck was contacted for comment on these points and their conflict with the metro’s view, but they called for questions to be put in writing and no answers were available by the time of going to print.


The environment director in the PE region office of the EC department of economic development and environmental affairs (Dedea), Jeff Govender, said a team from his office was investigating.


Arnold Slabbert, director of the conservation organisation Wildline, one of the people in the metro most familiar with the area, said the mineral laws at the centre of the dispute needed to be questioned.


“The law that allows a mining company to access land despite the objection of a sister department and even the land-owner, is bully-boy legislation, in my view. Eco-protection is negligible and it is not socially empowering.”


No comment could be obtained from the Anglican Church but it is reliably understood that they opposed the application to mine.


 

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