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Municipality to fight sand mining

  Wednesday, 09 July 2008
 Tania Broughton

"The eThekwini Municipality is going head to head with the department of mineral and energy affairs regarding its decision to grant permission to mine sand at a "pristine estuary" on the Mdloti River at La Mercy."

Earlier this month, the municipality secured a final interdict stopping the owner of the property, Durban transport tycoon Ranjith Ramnarain, from proceeding with mining until its application to have the department's decision reviewed was heard.

"All parties agree that the review must be heard urgently," said Ramnarain's attorney, Sanjay Lorick.

"My client is suffering great prejudice, but we are at the mercy of the court rolls," he said on Tuesday. The municipality has already filed its review application. The department is expected to file papers of opposition soon, as is Ramnarain, after which the matter will be set down on the opposed roll.

In granting the final interdict, Durban High Court Judge Leona Theron noted that the area was "clearly a pristine estuarine environment". "Should the review application succeed, then no damage will have been done...However, if mining continues in the meantime, the whole purpose of the application may be undone," she said.

The municipality brought the urgent application last year, claiming that Ramnarain was destroying the sensitive habitat by bulldozing a road through the reed bed and putting in a slipway. In her judgment, Theron said Ramnarain bought the 15.3ha property in February 1997. An application was made for a mining permit that same year. In spite of objections from both the municipality and the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, a permit was granted.

In August 1997, the municipality lodged an appeal against the decision, but before that could be adjudicated, the permit expired with no mining having taken place. In February 2001, the department advised the municipality that Ramnarain had again applied for a sand-mining licence. Again there were objections and, in 2003, the department refused it.

However, Ramnarain did not give up. He secured the services of environmental management specialists to provide a guideline for the management of possible impact caused. Backed up with this report, he again applied for a permit, lodging R50 0000, earmarked for rehabilitation, with his application. Again the municipality and others objected. But they received no further correspondence on the matter and assumed that the application had either been withdrawn or refused.

In fact, the permit was granted in November 2007 and Ramnarain started building a slipway on the property. The municipality contends that although he had a permit, he must still have town planning approval and, since the area is zoned "amenity reserve", mining would be precluded. Ramnarain, however, said that he was not mining but only making preparations to mine.

The judge noted that "it appears that he has accepted that he is not entitled at this stage to conduct mining activities" and found that "there is no merit in the suggestion that the construction of the slipway was a separate and distinct activity from mining". She ordered Ramnarain to stop all mining, excavation, dumping or removal of material on the site and interdicted him from causing any further degradation to the estuarine environment.

 

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