Langebaan boatyard and jetty in deepwater with EAD
The National Department of Public Works (DPW) has been fined R93 000 by its Environmental Affairs Department counterpart for developing a R100 million boatyard and jetty in the sensitive Langebaan Lagoon without environmental approval.
In March, Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica told Parliament that the DPW had stopped construction of the project, which is being built for the SANDF’s Special Forces task force at its Salamander base at the restricted tip of the western arm of the lagoon, pending a decision by her department on whether to grant environmental authorisation retrospectively.
But angry Langebaan residents say work on the site continued and had included dredging, with the dredged material – including fatty residues from the former whaling station on the site – being dumped elsewhere in the lagoon.
Much of the Langebaan Lagoon falls within the West Coast National Park, and it is a migratory waterbird site of international significance, protected under the Ramsar Convention to which South Africa is a signatory.
Jaco Kotze, chairman of the Langebaan Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, who was one of a small delegation taken on a site inspection recently, said Sonjica had misled Parliament with her reply.
“We are very dissatisfied… the operation is going on.”
Kotze said members of his association had become aware of “a lot of activity” at the base last April. They found the DPW was breaking down an old asbestos boatyard and were told a new facility would be built on the same environmental “footprint” and that there would be three pylons in the sea with a gantry.
“Jimmy Walsh of the West Coast Biosphere Reserve told them, ‘You guys are not above the law’, and we insisted that they apply for a Section 24G in terms of Nema (retrospective authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act) and that all operations cease.”
But when they checked again in January, they found a “huge” 12m structure was being built on the water’s edge, concrete columns were being put into the seabed to support a jetty of about 120m, and the area had been dredged.
“We understand the need for this facility, but they cannot just carry on irrespective of the law,” said Kotze.
Responding to questions in Parliament by the DA, Sonjica said her department had issued a notice of intention to issue a formal “compliance notice” to the DPW on September 17 last year, after establishing that no environmental authorisation had been obtained.
“Following the issuing of this notice, all associated activities, such as the dredging within the 100m high water mark of the sea, ceased. The only activity that is continuing on the site is the stabilisation of the roof structure.”
In December, the DPW submitted a Section 24G application to rectify the illegal construction.
Albi Modise, chief director for communications in Sonjica’s department, told the Cape Argus last week the DPW had paid the R93 000 fine in full on March 23 and that his department had not yet reached a decision on its application for retrospective approval.
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