Marina homeowners puzzled by EIA ‘requirement’

ROB KNOWLES

THE apparent requirement for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a new home on the Royal Port Alfred Marina has puzzled residents who thought environmental authorisation was settled long ago.

The matter was first brought to the attention of TotT at a Ward 10 committee meeting on May 8. An item on the agenda, “EIA requirement – House Coetzee”, concluded: “[Whether] an EIA is required in respect of houses in the Marina needs clarification to avoid unnecessary delays with costly housing projects”.

The matter was again raised at the Ndlambe executive committee meeting of June 21. The item in the agenda stated the municipality had no authority to enforce NEMA regulations, and that approved building plans were still subject to NEMA.

It further stated that, in view of the fact that 260 houses had already been built on the marina since 1991, it deemed an EIA was unnecessary.

However, at the meeting officials still expressed uncertainty. Deputy director of community protection services, Fanie Fouche, said new environmental regulations prohibited the construction of houses within 100m of the high water mark without an EIA being conducted.

“The bigger picture is that this is true of other towns like Knysna,” said Ward 10 councillor Ross Purdon.

Exco tasked Fouche to investigate the matter further and report back.

Marina developer and homeowner Justin de wet Steyn said he was not worried by the NEMA conditions.

“A comprehensive EIA for the marina was carried out and signed off on September 27 1987,” explained De Wet Steyn. “A year later it was approved by the surveyor general and the township register was opened. Once this is done there is no further EIA required. It cannot be challenged.”

De Wet Steyn said he believed someone at the municipality might have misinterpreted the Act, but insisted it could not be applied retrospectively.

“Such a rule is important,” he agreed, “as building close to the high water mark can have a serious environmental impact. However, all this was dealt with 25 years ago, and there is no need to rehash it.”

He also pointed out that a distance of 100m from the high water mark would affect many of the low-lying areas in Port Alfred. Pointing out the area between Van der Riet Street and Biscay Road (known colloquially as the Kowie Flats), De Wet Steyn said it was clear the storm water drainage ebbed and flowed with the tide, indicating that building work on any of these properties will be affected by the Act.

Steyn said construction of “House Coetsee” had already begun, and the plans were approved.

The owner of the property, John Coetsee, who is also the owner of Connocks Butchery in Grahamstown, agreed with Steyn that the house was already under construction. He said he was not worried.

“As far as I am concerned, the EIA for the entire development has already been carried out. I am unconcerned about it. My builder will have to handle any problems,” said Coetsee.

TotT asked municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa for an update on the municipality’s position.

Mbolekwa responded that EIA’s, environmental authorisations and records of decision all fell within the domain of the department of economic development and environmental affairs (DEDEA), and advised TotT to contact DEDEA’s environmental impact management unit in Port Elizabeth.

“It is the owner’s responsibility to comply with all environmental legislation. At present we can not comment on the question of the Marina and the EIA process,” he said.

Div de Villiers, senior manager for DEDEA’s enforcement and compliance unit, told TotT the matter was under consideration.

“I’m getting a few legal opinions on this one before answering or putting you in touch with someone to answer your questions,” De Villiers said.

Jan Kapp, manager of coastal management at DEDEA told TotT he believed there was no requirement for a new EIA.

He cited a similar case in the St Francis Marina where a piece of land was never developed. In this case, he said, the plot was originally designated for residential development, but had been used as small boat harbour. He said a high court ruled that, even though not used as originally intended, there was no requirement for another EIA.

“I therefore believe, at this stage, an EIA will not be required,” said Kapp.

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