New battle over Sani Pass road

2013-08-05 00:00

THREE weeks after the KZN Environmental Affairs Department gave the nod to a gravel surface for the road to Lesotho up the Sani Pass, the provincial Department of Transport (DOT) has appealed the decision as it would prefer to tar the road.

Local organisations such as the Southern Drakensberg Community Tourism Organisation (SDCTO) and the Sani Wildlife branch of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) will oppose the appeal.

“A gravel surface with improved drainage is the preferred option,” says Chris Wheeler, chairperson of SDCTO.

“To go with tar is not at all feasible in terms of cost and logistics.”

The DOT first proposed upgrading the Sani Pass road to a tarred road all the way to the 2 865 m high summit of the pass in 2005. Phase one of the project, involving the first 14 km of road, over relatively flat terrain was quickly approved and was begun in 2006. It took six years to complete and cost R200 million.

In 2007, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) process commenced for phase two — the 19 km section to the summit. It was commissioned by the DOT and undertaken by Gibb Engineering and Science. The initial scoping report proposed six alternatives, which ranged from “doing nothing” to driving a tunnel through the top of the mountain. The DOT‘s preferred option was alternative five: a tarred hard surface, but no tunnel.

The draft EIA was released in 2011 and though DOT favoured the hard surface solution most of the specialist studies recommended alternative three, which called for a gravel surface together with improved road drainage.

“This was a win-win situation as it would provide increased access by allowing all vehicles to use the road while not destroying the very essence of the area,” said Russell Suchet, spokesperson for Sani Wildlife.

In the final report submitted to the DOE, the DOT recommended the hard surface go ahead. However the DOE opted for alternative three and accordingly issued an environmental authorisation on July 2 giving the go-ahead.

Last week the DOT issued notice of intention to appeal this decision. The appeal submission is available for inspection until August 16 on the Gibb website as well as at the Underberg library, kwaSani municipal offices and the Southern Drakensberg Tourist and Accommodation Centre.

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