Desalinate seawater in Langebaan Lagoon
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Desalinate seawater in Langebaan Lagoon

Transnet’s plans to develop a reverse osmosis plant at their Saldanha port have been dealt a blow by the suspension of their authorization to go ahead with the development, pending a decision by Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

The suspension follows an appeal lodged against an EIA by environmentalists concerned with the potential brine outputs into the bay.

“The previous minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism informed Transnet in April 2009 that he is supending the authorization of this project in terms of the Environmental Management Act Section 43(7), until this appeal has been finalized,” said Transnet spokesperson John Dludlu.

He said once the appeal process had been finalized and the project was authorized by Sonjica, Transnet would continue with the project.

The announcement of suspension came as good news to Jimmy Walsh, chairperson of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (CWCBR), who lodged the appeal. He had criticized the way in which the environmental consultants, SRK, had released their EIA, saying it was “very sneaky”.

He said the report was distributed on 15 December 2008 and gave objectors 30 days in which to comment.

“They knew most people are on holiday during that period and wouldn’t get round to it,” he said.

However, he and the vice-chairperson of CWCBR had managed to get off an appeal before the cut-off date.

The plant would serve to desalinate seawater for damping down dust from iron ore dumps.

Environmentalists objected to the plant on the grounds that brine would be pumped back into the bay, a closed system.

This could have grim consequences, they say, in that it could increase the salinity in the lagoon, negatively affecting the marine life.

It is not the plant itself that they are protesting, but it’s location at the lagoon.

The plant would, at peak, have an output of 3600 m3/day, producing a brine byproduct 4320 m3/day, and nearly 1.6 million m3/year, into Saldanha Bay, which adjoins the Langebaan Lagoon, which is a Ramsar protected wetland.

To illustrate this quantity, Walsh divided it to its equivalent in a car the size of a Corsa Lite.

This would amount to 179 181 cars, which, if put alongside in a row, would stretch 662.3 km.

“What’s more, if they double their iron ore export, which they say they intend to, that doubles the chance of a ship sinking. With spring tides it would take 40 minutes for the lagoon to be polluted.”

Supported by numerous organisations, such as SANParks, Birdlife SA and the Langebaan Action Group, Walsh’s concern is the effect of vast volumes of brine byproduct being pumped into the area. He said that if the appeal was not successful, they would take their objection to an international level.

“The country has signed a Ramsar Convention agreement (to protect the site) and are bound to honour it.”

Johan Ackron, convenor of the Langebaan Action Group, said the EIA had not been comprehensive and a complete, all-inclusive one needed to be carried out taking into consideration the area as a whole.

He described current EIAs as mere formalities.

“They are just rites of passage, with contrived motivations,” he said.

Christo van Wyk, chairperson of the Saldanha Bay Water Quality Trust, said although it could not be anticipated what the exact level of impact on water quality would be, he was certain it would be negative.

“The effluent will contain nasty chemical compounds which will contain antifungal agents, like brome, to kill plant growth in the inlet and outlet pipes of the RO plant. I am personally not convinced the scientists know exactly the extent of the zone of impact,” he said.

Sharon Jones, senior environmental scientist for SRK Consultants, said she was unfamiliar with the objections to the development. She said the company had appointed a number of specialists who had performed the assessments under the EIA.

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