The Mossel Bay Municipality has acted correctly and within the laws of the country with regard to the environmental approval procedures being followed in respect of the seawater desalination plant being constructed at Voorbaai, it said in response to an enquiry about the matter.
According to the Municipality it should be borne in mind that the seawater desalination project is an emergency project to help ensure an adequate and continued supply of water to more than 25 000 households in the municipal area as well as for businesses and industries that are dependent on municipal water.
The project was embarked upon against the background of a very real risk and continued threat that the Municipality’s main source of water, the Wolwedans Dam, might run empty soon. Official weather forecasts are still that the drought might continue indefinitely.
The Mossel Bay municipal area, together with some adjoining municipal districts, was declared a drought disaster area by the National Disaster Management Centre towards the end of 2009. It is still a declared drought disaster area because of the continuing drought and resultant water shortage experienced in the area at present. In some instances, disaster management legislation overrides other legislation.
The Municipality appointed environmental consultants immediately following the decision to proceed with this R210-million project to ensure that the environmental aspects of the project are attended to from the outset. However, because of the urgency of the project, which was at the time, and still is, scheduled for completion at the end of January 2011 to ensure that the potable water supply of water to residents is not disrupted, the normal procedures to obtain environmental approval could not be followed. This generally takes months and sometimes even a year or more.
Section 24G of the National Environmental Management Amendment Act, however, makes provision for anyone who has commenced with an activity for which environmental approval is required but has not obtained such approval in advance to apply to the Minister of Environmental Affairs or relevant MEC for rectification within six months after commencing with the activity.
Because of the emergency nature of the desalination project the Municipality has decided to follow this route and submitted a Section 24G application immediately when construction activities commenced. The Municipality as well as its environmental consultants has consulted with the Department of Environmental Affairs in this regard, while representatives of the Department have also attended project meetings to guide the Municipality on the matter.
Various public participation processes with regard to the project have either been completed or are in progress at present. The Municipality as well as its environmental consultants and project managers are also in regular contact with role players in this regard.