Cullinan & Associates acts for the Harrismith Business Forum in their opposition to the construction of the De Beers Pass Route

16 February 2016

Cullinan & Associates acts for the Harrismith Business Forum (‘the Forum’) who are opposed to the construction of a proposed National Road 3 between Keeversfontein to Warden in the Free State province, also referred to as the De Beers Pass Route (DBPR).  The proposed DBPR would be constructed parallel to the existing national road and would effectively bypass the town of Harrismith and inevitably cause substantial negative impact on the environment. The proponent for this development is the South African National Roads Association (‘SANRAL’).

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for the proposed DBPR is currently underway and the Forum commissioned a team of specialists to evaluate and submit comments on the draft Environmental Impact Assessment Reports (DEIR) published by SANRAL’s Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP). The Forum’s specialists identified numerous shortcomings in these reports specifically in relation to the proposed economic implications of the project as well as the environment surrounding the project area. In addition, a number of the DEIR reports also expressly conclude that the DBPR is the least viable route out of all the proposed alternatives. These reports include the avifauna, heritage, noise and the wetlands specialist studies.

The Forum is particularly concerned with the effect of the proposed DBPR on wetlands and water resources surrounding and extending beyond the project area. The construction of the DBPR will unavoidably cause loss of wetlands in the road reserve and corresponding loss of wetland function through pollution and degradation by erosion. The DEIR clearly indicates that for all practical purposes, the wetland functions of the intersected land are completely nullified during the road construction and operation phases. Water circulation within the wetlands would be obstructed or hindered, natural materials would be replaced with foreign materials of different textures, impermeable clay or rock substrates may be punctured due to increased porosity and altered chemical composition. Disturbance of wetland and grassland habitats for nesting, roosting and feeding rare and endangered birds would also be inevitable and resultantly, habitats for wetland animals and plants would be permanently destroyed. The overall loss of the wetlands structures and habitats would endure for the lifetime of the DBPR.

Furthermore, the impacts of the proposed DBPR on wetlands would also be prevalent downstream as the rivers falling within the project area would be severely compromised posing a threat to water supply for people, agriculture, commerce, industry and the environment downstream. Startlingly some of the rivers that would be affected include the Wilge, Meul and Cornelius rivers which all drain into the Vaal Dam, which is the principal water supply reservoir for Gauteng as well as other provinces.

The Forum is therefore in favour of the route alternative which entails upgrading the existing national road. The Forum’s specialists have unanimously concluded that this option would certainly curtail the grave economic and environmental implications associated with the construction of completely new national road. The final Environmental Impact Assessment reports (FEIR) are yet to be published and Cullinan & Associates will continue to assist the Forum to review the submissions and effectively oppose the proposed DBPR.  

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