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Thursday Nov 08, 2012

Durban's port expansion plans under fire

Plans to expand berths at the Durban container terminal have come under fire from conservation groups, which have criticised the Transnet Ports Authority for missing the bigger environmental picture.

A meeting was held last week to get the public's views on the plans to expand and deepen Berths 203 to 205, to better accommodate bigger, newgeneration vessels. This would allow the authority to "improve the efficiency" of the port.

"At present, these vessels enter and exit the port partially laden, and during the high tide window, creating unsafe operating conditions, and the risk exists that vessels could run aground," said the authority in its environmental impact assessment report.

It noted that proposed works to accommodate post-Panamax vessels would require dredging and dumping inside and outside the port, and that an assessment had been done to determine whether this might affect the bay's ecosystem.

But the director of UKZN's Centre for Civil Society, Patrick Bond said these findings were simply not good enough, and the report failed to consider larger concerns such as the effect of the expansion on climate change and Durban's carbon footprint.

"The much more 'efficient' shipping system that will result from replacing small ships with the mega-freighters carrying 14 000 containers per ship will intensify greenhouse gas emissions from bunker fuels, since those big ships that today wait outside Durban harbour for days at a time will now be in and out faster, then zipping around the ocean," Bond said.

He said the economic analysis did not even mention climate issues, even though there were increases in carbon taxation on the cards.

He said the possibility of a superstorm lashing the Durban coast was growing every year.

"Also, even though the berth improvements don't necessarily lead immediately to new container storage, there is no doubt that the vast increase anticipated [from 2million to 20 million containers a year by 2050] would dramatically increase truck transport - and the city's own study of Durban's climate footprint suggests trucks are the single most serious problem for emissions."

Bianca McKelvey, conservation manager for the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA, said she and her team had attended the open day, and that, compared with an earlier version of the report, "many of our issues on the direct impacts on the bay and the health of the bay have been considered by the specialists".

She also praised the way public comments had been considered and had influenced the terms of reference for many of the studies.

However, she said that a better understanding of how the project fitted into "the big picture" for the bay and eThekwini was needed.

"Civil society needs to have a clearer idea of the long-term development plans for the port, the back-of-port support areas, the envisaged dig-out port, and how this fits in with environmental planning and policy."

McKelvey also said that the project was contrary to the draft estuary management plan for the bay. "We cannot hope to develop in an environmentally sustainable way if we sideline the plans and policies that should be guiding us. We also need to understand how our coastal development is adapting to climate change risks, like coastal vulnerability and sea-level rise."

Nicky Naidoo, an environmental consultant involved in the report, said that if the expansion did not occur, there would be a significant loss of handling capacity. "This has a direct loss and impact of over R1.9bn, induced spending of over R1.5bn, port-related employment loss of 852 jobs, and total employment loss of 3 530 [jobs] over the period 2016-20."

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