Article in the Cape Argus on 21 April 2004.
A highway may run through it. by John Yeld
HUNDREDS of Greater Flamingoes move slowly through the shallow pans of Strandfontein sewerage works, feeding on the rich algal "soup" that sustains these beautiful birds and gives them their characteristic pink
Thousands of other wetland birds and waders - avocets, stilts, ibises, moorhens, kingfishers and terns, among many other species - are also feeding in the pans or on the mudflats on the edges. A pair of Fish Eagles, calling with their loud evocative cries, are perched on branches of trees in the low dune section that separates the sewerage works from the Rondevlei Nature Reserve, while a Marsh Harrier glares fiercely from its vantage point. It's sights like these that explain why the extensive sewerage works property is one of the most important bird habitats in southern Africa, and is also acknowledged as an area of international importance for bird conservation.
"There've been something like 240 or more bird species recorded here - not bad for an area that's not the Zululand bushveld!" remarked Dave Whitelaw, who heads the conservation portfolio of the Cape Bird Club, during a weekend visit. The club is one of several organisations that are extremely concerned about
the likely impact of the proposed R300 toll road project on the Strandfontein sewerage works and other important conservation areas in the southern Peninsula.
The current alignment of the southern arm of this proposed six-lane toll freeway - a "greenfields" or completely new stretch of road between Westlake and Philippi - actually cuts through two of the 15-odd pans at the
sewerage works, and effectively isolates this area from the adjacent Rondevlei and Zeekoevlei conservation areas. "That's what bothers us most - the cutting off of Rondevlei from Strandfontein," Whitelaw says. Now, the bird club is preparing to mount a major publicity offensive against the southern arm of the road that it believes could have a devastating impact on conservation initiatives in the southern Peninsula - including, particularly, environmental education. The draft environmental impact report, released for public comment last week, acknowledges that the proposed road will have a high negative impact on aquatic ecosystems and wetlands in this area, as well as on the "sense of place" of the Zandvlei, Zeekoevlei and Rondevlei nature areas.
Some 9 000 school children spend time at environmental education centres at Rondevlei and Zandvlei each year. Whitelaw is waiting to see who the new Western Cape environmental minister will be before inviting him or her for a site visit to explain just why the sewerage works is such an important biodiversity area.
"The idea is to have a two-pronged approach," says Whitelaw. "We want to get as many people as possible to the series of information meetings about the proposed road that are being held now.
"And then we want to try and persuade the politicians that there are other ways of utilising this land.
"This proposed toll road makes a bit of a mockery of the city's IMEP (Integrated Metropolitan Environmental Policy) and its vision for putting more money into public transport." The policy document, designed to guide the city's environmental management for the next 20 years and described in some conservation quarters as
"fantastic", acknowledges the city's unique biological diversity and recognises that "the conservation and protection of terrestrial biodiversity is a priority". It also "promotes appropriate transportation systems which reduce environmental impacts while increasing mobility for all" and commits the city to "minimising the need to travel and promoting the use of public transport as a preferred mode of transport". Whitelaw admits there are no easy answers, but adds: "We can't go on building roads forever."
Gavin Lawson is a member of both the Cape Bird Club and the Zandvlei Trust, which promotes the conservation of the Zandvlei nature reserve at Lakeside, soon to be proclaimed as the 96ha Greater Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve. The proposed toll road will run along the northern boundary of the reserve and will cut off six hectares of dune strandveld - a highly threatened vegetation type. "That's a beautiful area, and it contains about 20 plant species that do not occur in the reserve," Lawson points out. The trust is deeply concerned that the proposed toll road will impact heavily on both Zandvlei and the other last few remaining natural areas on the south-western Cape Flats. "The Cape Flats has the dubious honour of having the highest concentration of threatened plant species in the world!" Lawson says. "Four plants have been classified extinct and an additional 80 arethreatened with extinction." Apart from the obvious impact on Red Data (threatened or endangered) species of plants, amphibians - like the increasingly rare Western Leopard Toad - and many birds, Lawson is deeply concerned about the overall impact of the road on the Zandvlei nature reserve. For example, he points out that a massive bridge will be required to take the proposed toll road over the railway line and the nearby Keysers River. When the required lighting standards are erected on top of this bridge, the huge height involved will mean light and noise pollution spilling far out into the reserve. "Normally the reserve is dark, really dark - we've been out catching bats here," he points out.
Lawson points out that the trust is also concerned that the proposed toll road will divide communities in the southern Peninsula. "The Retreat, Coniston Park, Zerilda Park and Seawinds people will have a physical barrier of six lanes dividing them from their southern neighbours.
"In the Mitchell's Plain area, this road will further cut off and isolate - physically, mentally and emotionally - this community from the rest of Cape Town," it argues. The trust suggests a better option is to upgrade the city's public transport services."Then fewer vehicles would be on all the metropolitan roads, and there
would not be this perceived requirement for adding another road, to speed up travelling times."
This article appeared in the Constantia
Bulletin 29 April 2004.
The SANRAL/Penway R300/N21 ring-road proposal that threatens to choke the Mother City in toll fees and traffic fumes has moved a step further to becoming a reality with the release of the draft Environmental Impact Assessment report. Nonetheless, the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of this unsolicited bid remain unresolved issues.
If the developers and their partner, the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL),have their way, the six-lane highway will extend from north of Bloubergstrand south along the R300 through some of the most densely populated and poorest suburbs of the Cape Flats, areas with high unemployment and high crime rates, people who can ill afford toll fees. The benefits? "It is estimated that upgrading and tolling the R300 would increase network speed by approximately 2km an hour."
The ring road will then pour concrete over Philippi farmlands before slicing west, dissecting the heart of the proposed False Bay Ecology Park and carving into coastal wetlands of high ecological importance and sensitivity.
In competition with this toll road proposal is a very different vision for the area. The EIA acknowledges that the proposed False Bay Ecology Park " is important from a biodiversity point of view and has been identified as a key node and anchor area in the Biodiversity Network for the city...The proposed park would also offer socio-economic opportunities through environmental education and training and eco-tourism which would be aimed at the disadvantaged communitites living in close proximity to the area."
This vision is already being implemented. Zeekoevlei along with the adjoining Rondevlei Nature Reserve has the biggest environmental education centre on the Cape Flats. The road will run right through the new education centre and threaten the future of the existing centre as it will "separate the natural and man-made environments used for environmental education purposes." According to Cape Conservation's Dalton Gibbs of Rondevlei, 26 000 schoolchildren, many from the disadvantaged areas of the Cape Flats, will lose access to environmental education.
The nearby Strandfontein water treatment works is the fifth most important wetland bird habitat in Southern Africa. 350 hectares of highway will cut through two of their pans. The report admits, somewhat reluctantly, that this "could impact on bird habitats such as wetlands and fynbos through physical disturbance and pollution, " with a "possible loss of bird populations in some places."
At Muizenberg's Zandvlei, a category B wetland of high importance, " the proposed road alignment would run 100m from the environmental education centre and would impede acess to the centre that may cause it to close. "
The road will finally join the M3 at the Westlake interchange, encroaching within the 40 m ecological buffer of another Category B wetland. "No mitigation possible."
Nonetheless, the report contends that in Sector 1: (Westlake interchange to Vanguard Drive)
"This route does not traverse any proclaimed nature reserves or major wetlands. Some minor wetland areas would be traversed."
Along with the highly negative impact on the accquatic ecosystems of the Westlake wetland and Zandvlei Bird sanctuary, the report concedes that the road will have an equally negative cumulative impact on the conservation status of the highly endangered flora of the Cape Flats, even if mitigation is possible.
The report warns that "Due to the competitive nature of the tender process...it is difficult to assure the implementation of the recommended mitigation measures in this report. It remains the responsibility of the implementing authority, i.e. SANRAL, to control the implementation of mitigation..."
When pushed, Mr Poens Venter of the bidding Penway consortium, conceded that less than 10% of the Capetonians who contributed to the public participation process are in favour of the road. Nor is the City of Cape Town. Frank van der Velde is the Executive Support Officer for Cape Town's Transport, Roads and Stormwater portfolio. Speaking to Mike Wills on Cape Talk on 21 April 2004, van der Velde stated that the proposal is not supported by the city for a number of reasons. While toll roads are part of the city's long-term planning, they are not a priority. "Simply putting more cars on the road is not a solution." Nor are toll roads the most effective means of taxation. The city is against urban tolling as officials realise that the additional expense will push people to use the secondary routes which are already congested.
At one of the open houses held to give the public access to the EIA, I met one of the people who will be directly affected by the road. This Philippi resident was only informed in February this year that her smallholding is in the path of the proposed route. Her family were moved from District 6. Now, they will be moved again.
Penway's Mr Venter
makes no bones about his company's primary motivation in building this
road. It is, he says, "an investment opportunity."