City scientist to look at disputed wetland

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One of Cape Town’s most prominent aquatic scientists has been appointed to investigate the contested wetland area affected by controversial infilling of part of the Disa River estuary at Hout Bay, including delineating its boundaries.

Some residents and conservationists have been outraged by the recent in-filling work at the Beach Club residential development, which they claim is illegal. However, the developer – Really Useful Investments (Pty) Ltd – insists the work is fully legal and is being done in terms of a construction phase environmental management plan approved by the province’s environmental authorities.

However, after inspections both the national Water Affairs Department and the City of Cape Town have inclined towards taking the side of the objectors. The department served the developer with a notice in terms of the National Water Act, giving it 48 hours to explain why it should not issue a directive to stop all further in-filling, remove all the fill already dumped and levelled, and rehabilitate the site to its natural state.

Although the department was not satisfied with the response, after a discussion with the developer’s legal team it gave it a further 14 days to produce a copy of the management plan, as well as a wetland specialist’s report which included a delineation of the wetland, and a diagram by a professional engineer showing the 1:50-year flood line.

“Blue Scorpion” Thando Stimela, who is a compliance, monitoring and enforcement official at the department’s regional head office in Bellville, said yesterday that the developer had informed them it had appointed a prominent specialist consultant to investigate, and had asked for an extension to the 14-day period.

This had been granted until next Friday, “because we want to apply fair procedure”, Stimela said.

The Cape Argus has learnt that the wetland specialist is highly experienced consultant Dr Bill Harding, a past chairman of the Southern African Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Scientists, whose CV includes the position of senior hydrobiologist for the City of Cape Town and senior microbiologist for the Cape Town Metropole for nine years.

The city has also got tough with the Beach Club developer, confirming that it has served it with a section 31A directive of compliance in terms of the Environmental Conservation Act.

Spokeswoman Kylie Hatton said this was because it had failed to comply with an earlier notice issued in terms of the city’s stormwater by-law.

The developer’s attorney had responded to a “pre-directive” – an opportunity to explain why it should not be issued with a directive – but the city had been of the opinion “that the in-filling has resulted or may result in the environment being seriously damaged, endangered or detrimentally affected, and therefore did not accept the representations of the developer”, Hatton said, adding that it had served the section 31A directive on May 11, ordering in-filling to cease and rehabilitation measures to be undertaken within 28 days..

The developer has been asked to comment.

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