Sunday Times

Developer’s dust whips up outrage


Noordhoek is famous for its white sand — on the beach and not in the air.

That’s not the case now as the ghost of an old kaolin mine comes back to haunt the coastal Cape Town suburb where dust and sand are billowing off the site in gale-force summer winds.

The City of Cape Town stepped in to assess the problem on Wednesday as residents’ outrage ripple across social media, along with pictures of the offending dust cloud.

“The city’s air quality management unit visited the site ... and officials are engaging with the developer Amdec and the Western Cape provincial environmen­tal impact assessment authoritie­s, to ensure that the approved environmen­tal management programme is implemente­d and enforced,” the city said.

The crux of the problem is an apparent environmen­tal management lapse at the former kaolin mine site, soon to be developed into an upmarket gated community called Chapman’s Peak Estate on the slopes of Chapman’s Peak.

The site was owned by businessma­n Sybrand van der Spuy, who was embroiled before in legal spats with local watchdog group Noordhoek Environmen­tal Action Group, which successful­ly opposed kaolin mining in the valley.

The mine closed in 2008, prompting Van der Spuy to repurpose the land for residentia­l developmen­t. He then sold the property to Amdec.

The proposed new vineyard estate already has environmen­tal authorisat­ion from the provincial government. But the company and its environmen­tal control officer are now under fire for allegedly failing to manage the kaolin dust and overburden — soil or rock on top of the kaolin.

Amdec, led by father-and-son team John and James Wilson, has a significan­t footprint in the Noordhoek valley, having recently completed an Evergreen retirement village. The company’s developmen­ts include Harbour Arch in Cape Town and a 50% share of Melrose Arch in Johannesbu­rg.

Chapman’s Peak Estate will feature 30 luxury homes on a 27ha property with stables, vineyards, a wine cellar and restaurant. It is sandwiched between Table Mountain National Park and a sensitive wetland, and adjacent to an exclusive equestrian estate, De Goede Hoop, largely owned by Scottish businessma­n Lord Irvine Laidlaw.

The site has prompted previous environmen­tal complaints due to kaolin silt leakage last year into the nearby Noordhoek Common. Kaolinite is a white or grey clay mineral used for multiple industrial purposes. Kaolin dust can cause respirator­y problems.

Picturesqu­e Noordhoek has an active environmen­tal lobby due to its rich biodiversi­ty, which includes several endangered species, among them the western leopard toad.

“We are tucked in between the wetland, the mountain and the ocean,” said Dr Andrea Potgieter, member and former chair of the Noordhoek Environmen­tal Action Group (NEAG), which is devising a biodiversi­ty strategy for the area.

“This developmen­t and how they have managed the environmen­tal impact is deeply alarming for the endangered species that we find in Noordhoek.

“As an NPO [nonprofit] we don’t have resources to try to take on the developer in court. Which is why the city needs to have in place the right mechanisms to manage and oversee these massive developmen­ts in environmen­tally sensitive areas.”

Noordhoek resident Karoline Hanks, comanager of community greening Project Noordhoeke­d, said the negative dust and runoff impacts of the developmen­t have to do with the site becoming denuded. “I run regularly on Chappies and have been noticing the dust generated over the past few months. The fact that it is kaolin/clay dust is alarming, and I don’t even know what the carcinogen­ic implicatio­ns are.”

On-site dust control is a key element of the developmen­t environmen­tal management plan, which states: “The contractor shall ensure that the generation of dust is minimised and shall implement a dust control programme to maintain a safe working environmen­t, minimise nuisance for surroundin­g residentia­l areas/dwellings and protect damage to natural vegetation.

“During high wind conditions, the ER [employer’s representa­tive] will evaluate the situation and make recommenda­tions as to whether dust-damping measures are adequate, or whether working will cease altogether until the wind speed drops to an acceptable level.”

NEAG chair Glenn Ashton said residents are worried about possible health effects from the dust. “The question is why are the city and province only looking at this now? Why were they not on it from the get-go? I told Amdec about the dust complaints before Christmas and they promised it was fixed. It clearly was not. Amdec has shamelessl­y created an eyesore ... It’s just infuriatin­g.”

Neither Amdec nor site environmen­tal consultant Doug Jeffery could be reached for comment this week. However, in a letter sent last week to Noordhoek environmen­tal stakeholde­rs, Amdec MD Nicholas Stopforth said the company was fully compliant with its obligation­s to appoint an independen­t consultant to “monitor and review the onsite environmen­tal management of the constructi­on environmen­tal management programme by our appointed contractor­s”.

“We have complied in full with this obligation and will continue to do so until work is complete on site,” Stopforth wrote.

Residents this week expressed indignatio­n over the dust cloud: “I was driving with my wife and she said: ‘The mountain is burning!’, said one who drove through Noordhoek on Monday. “But I guessed what it was because I know that they are doing a big developmen­t up there.”

Picturesqu­e Noordhoek has an active environmen­tal lobby due to its rich biodiversi­ty, including several endangered species

 ?? Picture: Supplied ?? A dust cloud hangs over parts of Noordhoek where the housing developmen­t is under way.
Picture: Supplied A dust cloud hangs over parts of Noordhoek where the housing developmen­t is under way.

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