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Friday May 21, 2010

Work on Langebaan project to be halted

The Public Works Department is to be ordered this week to show how the R100 million boatyard it is constructing for the Recces at Langebaan Lagoon will be managed, to comply with the strategic environmental plan for Saldanha Bay.

Building of the controversial project, which is already visible from Langebaan town on the opposite side of the lagoon, will stop until the national Department of Water and Environmental Affairs has given its approval.

This was the outcome when three environment department officials - including members of the "Green Scorpions" enforcement directorate - flew from Pretoria last week to meet representatives of civic groups who have been questioning the flouting of environmental laws, and the project managers.

The Department of Public Works has been working on the new boatyard, on the site of a former whaling station, for more than a year without getting the required environmental approvals or undertaking the statutory environmental impact assessment.

After the Green Scorpions' first visit in August, the environment department threatened to issue a formal compliance notice under the National Environmental Management Act because of the "unlawful" construction and contravention of "numerous provisions of the protected areas legislation". Such a notice would have brought all work on the project to stop until environmental approval was given.

But this has not been done, according to the environment department, because the Department of Public Works responded promptly with an appeal and agreed to stop work.

But the Department of Public Works denied making this promise and continued working on the structure, despite being fined R93 000 for non-compliance.

Responding to questions about last week's site inspection and meeting, environment department spokesman Albi Modise said it had become clear that there was a need for the department to issue a fresh compliance notice to the Department of Public Works to ensure it complied with the instructions.

"The notice will ensure that all activities at the site cease, save for those that need to be undertaken for safety reasons, pending the outcome of the section 24G process."

This is the National Environmental Management Act process for applying for rectification of the unlawful commencement of an activity.

Modise said the Department of Public Works would also be required to submit additional information and address specific aspects "that ensure the consideration of the strategic objectives of the bay".

These instructions would probably be sent to public works this week.

The environment department also had specific concerns about the environmental management plan, relating to the activities proposed for the military base, Modise said.

"The letter requiring additional considerations as part of the section 24G process will therefore require the amendment of this environmental management plan, specifically in relation to the integrated monitoring protocol according to the bay standards."

The consultants would make the plan available to the local community.

The department's response comes as the civic groups - the Langebaan Ratepayers & Residents Association, Cape West Coast Biosphere, and the Saldanha Bay Water Quality Trust - express deep concern at what they describe as a development "onslaught" on the Langebaan biosphere.

"There is a huge onslaught on this fragile bay and lagoon system in terms of industrial, residential and just generally senseless development," said Jaco Kotze, chairman of the ratepayer body.

"Development is part of our being and future, but we have to do it in an environmentally sustainable manner to protect our unique lagoon systems and primary industry - tourism."

Cape Argus


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