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Tuesday Feb 21, 2012

Battle over mine abutting Mtunzini Conservancy

Like boxers thrust into the ring after a short time out between rounds, the Mtunzini Conservancy and mining company Exxaro are squaring up for the next round in their fight over proposed mineral mining on the doorstep of the quiet KwaZulu-Natal coastal town.

An opencast mine at nearby Hillendale.

In October, Exxaro's basic assessment report (BAR) for the Fairbreeze mine was rejected by the KZN Department of Environmental Affairs and Rural Development on a number of grounds.

The company was ordered to make some changes and resubmit it for public comment.

The new report was published just over a week ago, and the battle has been reignited and will soon enter its critical final stages.

Exxaro has argued that the mine is essential for its future and its 750 full-time employees, but the conservancy has said it believes that the project, which would see mining happen just 100m from Mtunzini's southern border, would cause untold environmental damage and be detrimental to the town, its tourism sector and its peaceful way of life.

Local chiefs, however, have backed the development, saying it would lead to much-needed employment opportunities.

The first battle has already started, and it doesn't even relate to the contents of the report. It simply relates to how much time has been given for people to go through the report and comment on it.

Stan Whitfield, of the Mtunzini Conservancy, said that the original deadline for comments had been March 1, but this had later been extended to March 9 after the organisation contacted the provincial department and Exxaro.

However, this was enough time.

"We've instructed our lawyer to write to request that the deadline be moved to March 31," said Whitfield.

"It is a massive document and we need that time to do it justice."

The conservancy had met on Tuesday evening and was still going through the document, he said.

However, it was still demanding that a full scoping and environmental impact assessment report be done, which would better assess the impact of the project.

He added that the conservancy's original concerns - including dust, noise, negative impact on the tourist industry, damage to environmentally sensitive areas and massive slimes dams - still stood.

An October letter from the department, which is in the Sunday Tribune's possession, raised a number of concerns, from minor technical issues, such as crossreferencing errors, to the company's failure to get comment from certain government departments and Transnet Freight Rail, as a railway

still not traverses the proposed mining area.

"The department notes with concern that the BAR places its focus, detail and assessment on mining operations and omits detailed assessment of other important infrastructure required for the proposed development," the letter reads.

"For example, the BAR provides no details of the designs, alternatives and assessments of environmental impacts and its mitigation measures for the construction of the off-ramp, roads, power lines and the (electricity) substation."

It adds that further traffic assessments are needed.

But perhaps the biggest claim in the department's letter is over rehabilitation of the land once the mining is completed. This is the most contested issue, with the conservancy saying there is no evidence that the land can be adequately rehabilitated.

Exxaro, however, has maintained that its rehabilitation work at the nearby Hillendale mine is evidence that the land will be restored once the mine is closed.

But the department's letter states that the proposed rehabilitation method is considered to be at a trial stage, and that the studies on the physical and chemical properties of the mined soil are incomplete.

"There is thus uncertainty that the rehabilitation would be effective," it says, adding that a peer review by an independent specialist be included in the revamped document.

Exxaro spokesman Hilton Atkinson said the company had made the changes requested by the government, including that a traffic impact statement and an agricultural assessment be included.

Two peer reviews, one on the air quality impact assessment and one on the rehabilitation plan, had also been added, he said, and some editing issues had been rectified.

But the biggest change is that one of the mining areas - ore bodyd - has been removed from the application.

"The environmental application practitioner recommended that the D ore body not be approved as part of this application and only considered in future, provided that additional measurements and modelling regarding the hydrology confirm that no unacceptable impacts are expected," said Atkinson.

"Exxaro does have a mining right on ore body D and may consider mining the area in future, provided the impact after re-evaluation is found to be acceptable."

Asked whether the company was satisfied that the new document would satisfy the Department of Environmental Affairs, Atkinson responded: "This is a regulated process, and it would be inappropriate for Exxaro to comment on the merits of its pending application. This is an issue for the department to decide. Exxaro is nevertheless satisfied that it has conducted a thorough assessment of the proposed project."

To read the basic assessment report, go to www.acerafrica.co.za and click the "Current Projects" tab.

Copies can also be viewed at the Mtunzini and Gingindlovu libraries.

Sunday Tribune

    
 

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