PROVINCIAL environmental authorities remained silent this week on any further action against Ndlambe muncipality after a fire burned for six days at the Marselle/Bushman’s River dumpsite.
The latest fire follows an intervention from the department of economic development and environmental affairs (Dedea) in May, when their compliance and enforcement unit (Green Scorpions) issued a “notice of intention to issue a compliance notice” to the municipality after finding a number of irregularities with the dump.
Dedea investigated after receiving complaints from Kenton-on-Sea resident David Burr, who blames the municipality for systematically burning waste in an effort to create space at the dumpsite, which is almost filled to capacity.
Burr, who lives across the Bushman’s River from the dumpsite, told TotT he had been enduring toxic smoke from burning refuse at the dumpsite for the past two years.
“My wife has even left to go overseas as she cannot cope with it anymore,” he said.
He provided TotT with copies of numerous letters he had written to the municipality, which elicited little or no response.
After a large fire at the dump on May 31, which Burr also reported to Green Scorpions senior manager Div de Villiers, there were no other fires for more than three months.
But Burr continued a private battle for the municipality to be held accountable, and succeeded in getting the police to join the investigation into the alleged breaking of environmental laws.
A criminal case docket was opened at the Kenton police station in June, and on August 29, acting cluster commander Colonel Lizette Zeelie followed up with a letter to De Villiers and other Dedea officials.
In the letter, of which TotT has a copy, Zeelie acknowledged Dedea’s prior actions in dealing with the issues at the dumpsite and its “negotiations with the municipality”.
“Obviously, if an environmental matter cannot successfully be addressed by means of administrative measures, a judicial approach with criminal sanctions will become more relevant and necessary,” said Zeelie.
However, she added, that stage had not yet been reached.
She said any investigation by the police into alleged contravention of environmental laws would be linked and be dependable on Dedea’s investigation, and she asked Dedea for relevant documentation relating to the complaint.
Two weeks after Zeelie’s letter, on September 15, Burr reported a “massive fire” at the dump site fanned by a strong easterly wind.
He said he called the fire department and was initially told by a fireman on duty they do not respond to dumpsite fires. Burr then called chief fire officer Eldridge Baatjies, who undertook to send a fire tender.
Burr also called the deputy director of community protection services, Fanie Fouche, who allegedly blamed “an old white man” for starting the blaze.
Burr said the fire was doused but continued to smoulder the following day and re-ignited when the wind changed direction on September 17.
When the fire department eventually responded, “Murphy’s law prevailed, the gates (to the dump) were locked and access to the fire was thwarted”, said Burr.
The fire continued to burn over the next four days, with one more visit by the fire department.
Asked what actions Dedea would take in light of the latest blaze, De Villiers said he could not talk to the media unless authorised by the Dedea communications officer, Sixolile Makaula, who has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa did not respond to the allegation that “an old white man” started the most recent fire, but said a case had been opened.
He said in an effort to stop the deliberate setting of fires, a”municipal appointee” was at the dumpsite 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The Cacadu District Municipalityis in the process of appointing a service provider for all Ndlambe municipal land-fill sites, who will register and do whatever is required to attain the necessary permits,” he said.