Over 200 people attended a lively meeting in Aberdeen last Thursday to discuss the outcome of the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Programme(EMP) for the Kareepoort block area near Aberdeen.
Tim van Stormbroek of Ferret Mining and Environmental Services presented a summary of the report, and despite the poor acoustics of the hall, he came across clearly and controlled the meeting well. He introduced officials from the companies involved in the project at this stage: Erika van der Linde, another environmental consultant at Ferret Mining and Environmental Services; Willie Bezuidenhout, Peninsula Energy CEO of the South African operations; Johan Slabbert, Radiation Protection Specialist (RPS) for the project; Peter Rosewarne, a Groundwater Specialist from SRK who specialises in Karoo groundwater; and Tefo Maloisane representing the BEE partners in the project.
Van Stormbroek explained that the prospecting process had been completed, and the matter under discussion now was the mining rights application by Peninsula Energyfor opencast mining in the Kareepoort block area, approximately 50km from Aberdeen.
After a short discussion on language policy for the evening, it was agreed that the presentation would be mostly in English, with interpretation into Afrikaans and IsiXhosa if requested at specific times.
A series of fairly technical slides was shown, explaining in some detail the results of the studies that had been performed. Many of the people in the hall became a little restless, as both the level of language and complexity of the slides were clearly not understood by all. Many graphics and maps were included in the presentation, showing the area involved and details such as the projected levels of radiation.
After the presentation, time was set aside for questions and answers. Many of the points raised were thoughtful and showed genuine concern and desire for answers, and van Stormbroek and others from the team answered confidently –it was a pity that due to the poor acoustics, most of the other respondents could not be heard clearly.
There was a clear division in the audience, with farmers, the Khoi-San representatives and members of the Karoo Environment Justice Movement clearly opposed to the application on environmental grounds. Some farm workers from the affected area also expressed concern about what would happen to them –it was explained that those who met the basic employment criteria may be employed on the project. As part of the company Social and Labour Plan the applicant is looking at stud animal production for up and coming new farmers as well as a shearing project in conjunction with the NWGA.
Possible problems raised included the damage to the roads, water pollution and dust (radioactive and other), and the effect on the wildlife in the area, all of which were countered by reference to the studies undertaken.
The prospect of jobs was the main reason for the support for the project from the others present. For the whole Karoo Uranium Project, around 700 direct jobs are expected to be created, 43 of them at Kareepoort. Many other job opportunities would arise from service industries, ranging from hospitality to maintenance, security and fencing. Those opposing the project suggested that there were other ways to create jobs through cleaner energy options. A local contractor present raised some thoughtful points concerning the degree of expertise needed from contractors, and the myriads rules and regulations that had to be followed.
The relatively short life of the project (four years) was cited by many as a problem, and the concern was expressed that for four years work for a small number of people, the environmental damage, particularly for the farming industry, would be far more long-lasting. Others raised their concern about the long-term effects of the possible contamination on their children. Again, van Stormbroek countered this by reference to the results of the studies. People started to leave during the question and answer session, either because they had made their point, or due to the lateness of the hour.
After the questions, Mayor Deon de Vos, and Speaker Thembisa Nonnies spoke to those still in the hall. Local councillors Willem Safers (ward 1), Rudy Jacobs (ward 7) and Eldrige Ruiters (DA PR) were also present, as well as Cllr Samantha Jankovich from Graaff-Reinet.
The meeting eventually concluded after 9pm, well over two hours past the scheduled time. Van Stormbroek was very pleased with the attendance at the meeting, with the diversity of those present being a fair reflection of the communities involved. “It was great to be amongst the people of Aberdeen and hear their hearts not only on the proposed project but also on their lives in the Karoo and what matters to them” he said.
The closing date for comments on the proposed mining activity is 22nd April 2017. These should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, posted to P.O. Box 72313, Lynnwood Ridge, 0040 or faxed to 086 716 5576.