Tormin mine claims false, court hears

2017-02-23 07:46

Cape Town - The “independent” geological consultant who said the catastrophic collapse of a sea cliff in front of a West Coast mineral sands mine was caused by natural events, was employed by the mine when he wrote this in a report, GroundUp reported on Wednesday. 

This emerged in the Western Cape High Court this week, during a review application brought by Australian mining company Mineral Sands Resources (MSR). It extracts mineral sands like zircon, ilmenite, rutile, magnetite and garnet at its Tormin beach mine, 400km from Cape Town on the coast near Lutzville.

Environmental authorities conducted a search-and-seizure operation in September last year. The company is now facing criminal charges for allegedly causing environmental degradation.

Photo taken in February 2015 as the cliff at the Tormin Mine on the West Coast started collapsing (Supplied) 

The “Green Scorpions” gathered evidence relating to five alleged transgressions.

MSR has not yet been formally charged, but the investigation relates to the mine’s allegedly illegal operations that caused the cliff collapse; the illegal dumping of mine tailings into the sea; the construction of an unauthorised “jetty-like structure” in the sea; the illegal clearing of natural vegetation during the unauthorised expansion of mining activities; and the unauthorised widening of roads on the mine.

In its review application, MSR asks the court to declare that the warrant for the operation was illegally obtained and to order that evidence the environmental inspectors had gathered be destroyed.

It seeks a declaratory order to the effect that, because of the “One Environmental System” for mining which government introduced in December 2014, full environmental authority for mining now vests with the Department of Mineral Resources.

Neither the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) nor the Western Cape’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) had authority for environmental compliance monitoring and/or enforcement, MSR argues.

Application opposed

Both environmental departments are opposing the application.

On Wednesday, during argument that the warrant was legally obtained, Advocate Ron Paschke, for the two departments, said MSR had repeatedly made the “false claim” that Adriaan du Toit was its independent geological consultant.

In his “Cliff Failure Memorandum” dated December 2015, Du Toit wrote that the “combination of rainfall and storm activity erosion is the main reason for cliff failure during or after storm events”.

MSR’s environmental compliance officer Sibonelo Mkhize states in court papers: “[Du Toit’s] conclusion was that the main reason for cliff failure in this area is the undercutting of the cliff face by wave activity.”

Paschke said that by Du Toit’s own admission on his profile on social networking site LinkedIn, MSR had employed him as exploration manager and mine environmental superintendent from January 2015 to June 2016.

The departments cite independent consulting soil scientist Dr Johan van der Waals. In a preliminary report in December last year, he said there had been no similar cliff failures in the area since 2003.

“The argument that cliff failures are naturally occurring events in the area is supported, but the scale of the failure on the coastal side of the treatment facility is considered to have been induced and exacerbated by human activities and a failure to process water adequately,” Van der Waals wrote.

Paschke argued that none of MSR’s attacks on the issuing of the warrant were justified. He asked that the application to set the warrant aside be dismissed.

However, if the judge agreed with MSR and declared the warrant illegal, the evidence collected during the search-and-seizure operation should be preserved, he said.

Earlier, Advocate Peter Hodes SC, for MSR, had argued that the warrant was invalid for reasons including “serious non-disclosure” and “false and misleading” statements by the environmental authorities.

The application continues on Thursday.

- Mineral Sands Resources is a subsidiary of Mineral Commodities Ltd that trades on the Australian Securities Exchange as MRC. MRC is the company that for 13 years attempted to develop a mineral sands mine at Xolobeni, on the Pondoland coastline of Transkei, before announcing in July last year it was selling its stake in this highly-controversial project to its BEE partner.

Read more on:    cape town  |  environment  |  mining

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