Firm flouts heritage rules

2010-02-12 00:00

A MONUMENT has been destroyed and legal requirements flouted in construction work on a bridge over the Mkhondeni River at the bottom of Polly Shortts in Ashburton.

The monument was erected in 1988 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Trek.

According to site foreman Thami Zondo of Umtha Construction, contracted by the provincial Transport Department, the monument did not appear on any plans and they were unaware of it, despite walking the site before starting the work.

Nora Choveaux of the Preservation of the Mkhondeni Mpushini Biodiversity Trust contests this. “They had bulldozed around the monument, and then suddenly it was gone.”

The replacement of the bridge deck over the Mkhondeni River involves rerouting the road and providing a temporary bridge while the deck is replaced. The project should be completed in March.

The provincial Agriculture and Environmental Affairs Department issued a record of decision (ROD) authorising the transport project on October 30, 2008. Work started in January this year.

A condition of the authorisation states that the applicant must submit a permit from the provincial heritage body, Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali, in “respect of the alteration of the bridge, prior to commencement of the development”. This was not done.

Another condition of the ROD was that an environmental management plan (EMP) fulfilling the requirements of the authorisation be approved by the department “before commencement of the proposed activity”. This did not take place.

“Why bother having laws and procedures laid down if one department totally ignores the conditions laid down by another?” asked Choveaux.

According to Theo Wicks, an environmental consultant with Terrafix — which conducted the initial environmental impact assessment (EIA), and has been recontracted by the Transport Department for the construction period — an application has been sent to the Amafa Built Environment section to obtain a permit.

A draft EMP has been drawn up, which will be implemented once it has been approved by the department.

When Wicks was asked why all this was taking place after work had already commenced, he said: “It had all happened hell of a quickly... the bridge was about to fall to pieces.”

Wicks said there was concern that the bridge would not be able to cope with the traffic overload if traffic had to be diverted from the N3.

According to Amafa deputy director James Van Vuuren, the size of the development footprint was such that a heritage impact assessment was required as part of the EIA. It appears that this was not done.

The conditions laid down by Amafa, appended to the ROD, were not adhered to. These stipulated, among other things, that Amafa be contacted if any heritage objects were identified during earth-moving activities. “The heritage mitigation was not adhered to and there was no liaison with ­Amafa on the age of the bridge and the monument,” said Van Vuuren.

He said that while the monument was not protected, as it was erected in 1988, its demolition indicated disrespect on the part of the developer. “If there is a lack of compliance on the heritage component of the ROD, we will be taking action against them.”

The Transport Department had not responded to questions by the time of going to press.

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