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Monday May 06, 2013

Fears for beach as drilling starts for new Durban harbour

Part of a roughly 2km stretch of coast along Isipingo beach could be the possible location for Transnet's new dig-out port entrance.

Transnet has begun geotechnical drilling along Isipingo Beach.

Geotechnical drilling along the beach began this week to determine ground conditions below the surface of the site, which will enable Transnet to plan the design of the new port at the old Durban International Airport site.

Transnet maintains that the plans are at an early stage and that no final decision has been taken on where the harbour channel will be located.

However, members of the local ratepayers association said they should have been informed that "their beach" could be turned into the entrance channel, leaving no opportunity for bathing, fishing and surfing.

Grant Macfarlane, Transnet's geotechnical engineer, said they were establishing the geographical profile of the area and drilling boreholes of various depths from 21m to as deep as 80m below ground level. The holes are 70mm in diameter, about the size of a coffee-cup rim, and while the area is cordoned off to the public, the beach is still open.

"Because one of the biggest cost components when construction starts will be the dredging of the entrance channel, we need to know what is below the beach surface," said Macfarlane.

Seven borehole sites, which dot the 2-3km stretch of beach up to the canal near oil refinery Sapref, will be drilled for soil and rock samples.

These are the final seven boreholes of 80 to be drilled on the whole proposed Durban Dig-Out Port site.

"Ideally we are hoping to find more soil as it is easy to dredge and easily disposed off, whereas rock is not," said Macfarlane.

The activity on the beach is expected to be completed in two weeks' time, depending on the weather conditions.

Once all the results from the drilling are compiled, Transnet will be able to use the information to design the port.

While he emphasised that the plans were "very preliminary" at present, Macfarlane said the entrance to the new port could possibly begin north of the mangroves at the Isipingo estuary, without affecting the environmentally-sensitive area.

The entrance channel to the new port is expected to be about 500m wide and 18m below sea level.

The geotechnical investigation will be used by engineers when they start to look at various design options for the proposed port later this year, said Macfarlane.

The R75-billion port will allow bigger container ships, and the first phase of the port needs to be completed by 2020, as capacity at the current Durban port would run out by 2019.

Transnet hopes that construction will begin in 2016.

However Dharmanand Nowbuth, chairman of the Isipingo Ratepayers Association, said they should have been informed of the plans that could turn the beach into the entrance to the port.

"This area is visited by locals and people from inland. Where will people be able to swim, surf, fish and even just come to play at the beach? Transnet should have been more open about the plans and let us know what they are doing on the beach and why," said Nowbuth.

He said fishermen at the Durban harbour were not allowed to fish on the pier, and questioned what would become of the local fishing community.

"They are taking all this away from the community and what are they giving us in return? Its an insult to the community. There is no consideration for people who live here," he said.

Engineers, meanwhile, have already been drilling for samples at the old Durban International Airport site since November.

Samples taken from the old airport site have revealed what ground and rock conditions were millions of years ago.

"The area where the runway is located was once a riverbed millions of years ago," Macfarlane said. Rock samples found there contained sand and rocks fused together.

The oldest rock type found was the Natal Group Sandstone, which dates back up to 500-million years ago.

"This sand is unique to the province, and was found 21m below the ground where the carport area is located," said Macfarlane.

Other rocks are Dwyka Tillite which are about 300 million years old, and represents the end of the Ice Age when glaciers covered this part of the continent; and Zululand Group Siltstone of between 65 and 100 million years old.

The Independent on Saturday


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