Conservationists object to property in West Coast estuary

Local conservationists are outraged by the authorities' tardy response to an allegedly illegal house being built on the edge of the Olifants River estuary - widely described as "the jewel of the West Coast".

The Friends of Die Swart Tobie (African Black Oystercatcher) conservation group asked for more than a month for action to be taken against the owners because the new structure, on the undeveloped northern bank and with a deck apparently extending into the spring high-tide area, is within the "no development" zone in terms of the Integrated Coastal Management Act. It also falls within a proposed water bird sanctuary where all motorised transport will be banned.

The owners have allegedly not applied for permission in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema), and they have allegedly not obtained planning approval from the local authority, the Matzikama municipality.

The Western Cape's Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning eventually stepped in.

Although the matter was reported to its legal advisers as early as October 12, it was more than two weeks before one of its "Green Scorpions" - environmental management inspectors - visited the property on October 28, when he told one of the owners that building activities were illegal.

A warning letter was sent six days later, telling the owners of the province's intention to issue a compliance notice in terms of Nema if they refused to comply with the letter.

Department spokesman Aziel Gangerdine said the department had not issued a compliance notice as this would have acted as an order to "stop work" with immediate effect: "As much as there was significant environmental harm, it was not irreversible."

A compliance notice may be issued immediately if an inspector believes that "significant and irreversible harm to the environment" is being caused, Gangerdine added.

He confirmed that, according to the complainant, the Friends of Die Swart Tobie, the owner had ignored the department's request to stop all construction.

"However, there are no legal consequences following a verbal request as well as a warning letter."

He explained that a Green Scorpions inspector must give a transgressor advance notice in writing of the intention to issue a compliance notice.

"The transgressor also has the opportunity to make a written representation to the department as to why the compliance notice should not be issued."

The owners had until today to make a written representation. If they did not, the department would issue a compliance notice and a directive. If the compliance notice was not adhered to, the matter would be referred to the National Prosecuting Authority for criminal prosecution, Gangerdine said.

  • The owners of the property were asked to comment. At the time of going to press, they had not yet responded.

Article from: www.capeargus.co.za