Coast KZN

21 Feb 2014

Outrage over Mtunzini mine

Tony Carnie

Mtunzini residents are outraged that the uMlalazi Municipality has ignored the advice of its own town planners by authorising the multinational Tronox mining company to dig a massive open-cast mine just 100m from the scenic Zululand resort town.

This comes after a recommendation from the municipality’s registered town planners, Inhloso Planning, that there should be a buffer zone at least 500m between the new mine and the town to reduce dust, noise and other impacts.

Inhloso town planning consultant Coenraad Strachan wrote in a report to the uMlalazi Municipality that residents appeared to have a “valid concern” in complaining that the proposed mine was too close to the town boundary.

In one objection handed to the municipality last year, residents said: “The proposal to mine within 100m of residential properties in the town is without precedent in South Africa. And if the applicant’s only response is ‘we want to make more profit’, it is with respect not good enough.”

Responding to this concern, Strachan commented in his report: “Mine operations 100m away from built-up residential areas is deemed from a spatial planning perspective inadequate. There is no set minimum distance contained in any South African planning standards and norms pertaining to open-cast mining and built-up urban areas or settlement areas.”

Strachan recommended that the buffer zone be 500m, although it might be possible to reduce this to 250m in future if Tronox could demonstrate after one year of monitoring that dust and noise impacts could be contained sufficiently.

Earlier this month mayor Thembinkosi Zulu sent a “confidential” notice to members of the uMlalazi executive, advising them that a special exco meeting would be held on February 14 to consider the Tronox application.

According to an explanatory note, Zulu confirmed that the municipality’s exco met on February 6 to consider In-hloso’s planning report.

Strachan had then been asked to present his recommendations to the council’s management committee on February 10, before a final decision was taken.

Four days later, the executive committee authorised the Tronox application, striking out the condition for a wider 500m buffer zone as well as two other recommendations designed to protect the local fish farm and to limit access to the town boundaries.

Zulu and municipal manager Simon Mashabane could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Barbara Chedzey, head of the Mtunzini Conservancy, which has fought several legal battles to block the Tronox heavy minerals proposal next to Mtunzini, said she was “dismayed and perturbed” by the uMlalazi council decision.

“Equally we are outraged that the meeting was engineered so that there was no opportunity to debate an obviously controversial decision that flies in the face of sound professional advice.

“Crucial to the future of Mtunzini as a tourist destination is the size of the buffer zone… this decision sets a precedent on how close mining should be allowed to residential areas and we will be appealing this controversial decision taken in such an opaque and undemocratic process.”

Responding to queries on whether it had made any special representations to the council on the buffer zone distance, Tronox KZN Sands confirmed it had been notified by its own town planner of the council’s decision.

“Tronox has not received written notification of this decision from the municipality so cannot comment.

“Tronox would prefer to address your request once all the parties have been given an opportunity to see the council’s decision.”


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