AMID desperate efforts by the Wildlife and Environment Society (Wessa) to get the authorities to address concerns about Bay West, the developer has bulldozed the fragile rocky outcrop that sits at the heart of the dispute about this controversial project. This outcrop is described by Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s environmental management unit as a "sensitive and unique ecological feature that should not be destroyed” .
The destruction was reported on Friday (September 7 2012) by a reliable source and confirmed to me this week wednesday sept 12by Baakens Valley Preservation Trust committee member Gwynneth Marmetschke.
"Where the outcrop was, there are now piles and piles of rock. You can see it from the highway. It brought tears to my eyes, because I know what was there.”
In the furore over the project (the site is on the western rim of Port Elizabeth, south of the N2) it is common cause that this distinctive rocky "island” is vital to the survival of a rich array of endemic plants, including two critically endangered species, which grow on it.
When I heard Marmetschke’s news, I emailed Stellenbosch-based Bay West MD Gavin Blows to ask for his comment. He did not deny the report. He argued instead that the company was acting legally. He said the company had "just started relocation of the rocks”.
In July, the society communicated to the MEC of the Eastern Cape department of economic development environmental affairs and tourism (Dedeat) Mcebisi Jonas that, in its opinion, his March approval of the developer’s application to remove the outcrop was ultra vires, outside the law. This because, in October last year, based on the ecological importance of the outcrop, and its position within the metro’s conservation framework plan – the MEC had already rejected the same application.
Wessa argues that there is no provision under the environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations for a second appeal decision to be made, on the same facts, which overrides a first appeal decision.
Responding only after three urgent communications were sent questioning what legal mechanism the MEC had used to allow him to reverse his first decision – the department called for a meeting.
At this meeting, in Port Elizabeth on August 31, the society was hoping for an answer to its question. As Wessa conservation officer Morgan Griffiths notes, "this was not forthcoming”. But the department did say it would be speaking to the developer, after which it would be responding to the society in writing.
Furthermore, as Griffiths notes in a posting on the Baakens Valley Community Partnership Facebook site, at this same meeting, Wessa requested the department to prohibit any work on the Bay West site "until such time as the matter is resolved”.
On September 5, having previously corresponded with the project’s EIA consultant, Wessa emailed Blows directly, conveying its argument and the call it had made to the department.
"Wessa holds that the Bay West development company enjoys no development rights and cannot proceed with any site works premised on (the) 2nd decision,” he said.
Also on September 5, Wessa emailed Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality land planning director Dawn McCarthy, noting the society’s concern that the metro may have approved the project from its side, based on this flawed second decision.
"If this is so, we request that the NMBM withdraws such approval and informs the developer he may not commence any works until such time as there is a legal solution.
"We believe this is in the best interests of Nelson Mandela Bay in terms of protecting the integrity of our spatial planning processes and critical biodiversity elements in the metro’s conservation action plan.”
This week, I raised all these points with the metro. Spokesman Kupido Baron said: "the urgent matter you raise is.... outside our
Earlier last month, I had asked the province what the status of the project was. Spokesman Sixolile Makaula replied: "the department is engaging with the parties, in order to find win-win solutions.... and will communicate its decisions at the appropriate time.”
Having then heard about the demolition of the outcrop, I asked him for comment. There has been no subsequent
Yesterday (September 13 2012) with the outcrop already destroyed, Wessa received a copy of a letter ostensibly sent from the department to Blows, purportedly written the same day the initial October directive was issued by the MEC, withdrawing it because "more information has come to light”. The substance and authenticity of the letter are being considered.
Like the concerns about about fracking, the concerns here are not just about "the environment”. They are about what the ecological costs will mean in social and economic terms; the rule of law, and our future; what we want for our world, and what we will accept.