Mtunzini residents battle sand mining bid

2013-12-03 00:00

THE future of a North Coast eco-village Mtunzini now rests firmly in the hands of its local council as it deliberates on whether or not to allow farmland to be mined for mineral sands just 100 metres from the village.

The Umlalazi Municipality has until February to decide whether the land, currently zoned agricultural, is to be changed to mining.

Village organisations have, for over a decade, challenged the proposed mine, owned by U.S.-based Tronox subsidiary, Tronox KZN Sands, on several fronts. However, the most controversial aspect has been the proximity of the mine to the village and the effect it could have over the next 12 to 15 years on the village’s environment, lifestyle and tourism — a key economic driver for the town.

Chairperson of the Mtunzini Residents’ Association Wendy Forse made a submission to the council asking for the council to “refuse this … application to change the land use”.

“Mtunzini and surrounding communities do have alternative paths to mining. Our environment, our soils, our water, are too precious to sacrifice to the uncertain future both during and post-mining,” said Forse.

Tronox already has permission to mine large tracts of the surrounding land. In total, if the permission is granted by the council, 3 000 ha will be mined to extract minerals such as zircon, ilmenite and rutile with the mine expected to be on-stream in 2014. But it said the area under consideration contains 25% of the valuable minerals in the Fairbreeze area.

Conservancy chairperson Barbara Chedzey said their hope is the council will listen to their arguments in their application.

“It will be unprecedented for an open-cast mine to operate in such close proximity to a residential village and if the council grant the mine permission we will appeal,” said Chedzey.

She said the organisation has spent “more than R800 000” on legal fees and specialist opinion over the last three years. The conservancy has argued and challenged every aspect of the pre-mine process largely based on the fundamental point: Tronox was never required to undertake a full scoping report and an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the mine. This was deemed not necessary by the KZN Department of Environmental Affairs, on the basis of Tronox’s basic assessment report and several scientific documents.

Last month, the conservancy successfully halted large portions of construction at the Fairbreeze site, specifically the construction of two slimes dams, which are fundamental to the mining process as they hold fine discard remaining after the minerals have been extracted, when they appealed a water licence granted by the Department of Water Affairs in September, alleging it is “inadequate”.

“We want a better enforceable water licence created before it is re-issued. The first was too vague,” said Chedzey.

Earlier this year, the Durban high court dismissed with costs, an application filed by the Mtunzini Conservancy for an injunction to halt early-phase construction at the company’s Fairbreeze mine project. However, in May a settlement was reached when the conservancy committed to abandoning its appeal of the decision in exchange for Tronox paying its own costs, despite the award made by the court.

Tronox was unable to comment at the time of going to press.

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