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The Elandsfontein phosphate mine: The bigger picture, what is all the fuss about?
Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa state that “Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and environmental degradation, promote conservation and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development”. However, we see several development proposals that may cause irreversible negative impacts on the environment.
A mining application has been made by Elandsfontein Exploration and Mining for phosphate on the Elandsfontein Farm Erf No. 349 and a portion of Portion 2 of the farm. The phosphate deposit is placed at between 50 – 70 million tonnes and is of a very pure nature. Phosphate is a strategic mineral which is defined as a mineral utilised by the defence force as well as in agriculture for fertilizers, food etc.
The area where the mining is planned falls within:
• A Critical Biodiversity Area (CBA): Terrestrial biodiversity that is of high priority and that is required to maintain biodiversity pattern and process (i.e. functioning ecosystems) and to meet conservation targets.
• River and wetland Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs)
• Legally proclaimed Protected Area buffer (West Coast National Park)
• A Grade 2 Heritage Area (SAHRA)
• Aquifer Dependant Ecosystem (Langebaan Lagoon which is a RAMSAR site)
• Special Aquifer Region of high vulnerability and contamination to anthropogenic contamination
• A large intact functioning biodiversity area which can adapt to climate change
• An area with Endangered vegetation types and critically endangered wetland systems
• Key Focus Area for Protected Area expansion according to the Convention of Biodiversity Development Aitchi Targets
Possible impacts can lead to an ecological catastrophe if contamination of the aquifer should occur. The original Scoping Report indicated that it would use water from the primary aquifer to be utilised in the mining area and treated water will be discharged in a water course. Currently EEM is looking into utilising the sewage water from Langebaan, but this water still needs to be treated and discharged into a water course.
The Elandsfontein aquifer has been forming over the last 5 – 10 million year and water follows paleo channels. It is the source of phosphor in a natural intact system and plays a critical role in the functioning, genetic assimilation, productivity and biodiversity in a dry area. The mine is proposed in the valley (120 m above sea level) which the Berg River used to follow when it mouthed in the Langebaan Lagoon. It now feeds and enters the lagoon system through seeps, wetlands and springs.
All current research, municipal spatial development plans and water council documents indicate that this should be a ‘no-go ‘area.
The Mining and Biodiversity Guidelines highlight this area of Highest Biodiversity Importance and that there are valid ground not to allow authorization within such areas.
The Public Participation process has not been followed and are deeply flawed i.e. releasing the Scoping Report over the December Christmas holidays and public were given less than 30 days to comment. According to the Mining and Biodiversity Guidelines such application should have a large number of Interested and Affected Parties, yet currently it is less than 200.
The Scoping Report underplays the possible ecological and human health impacts and there are quite a few errors within the report. No alternatives are given within the report.
It is advised that the current process should comply with international treaties and guidelines in order to inform and make the right decisions as this application threatens the status of water, biodiversity and Heritage of international importance. The decisive debates and research must also be had as to discuss the probability of a dynamic system such as this within an evolutionary time span and its functioning within the ecosystem if phosphor is no longer available and hydrological regimes are changed.
Please take note of the attached information sheet regarding the proposed Elandsfontein phosphate mine. Whilst the official public participation period has ended, an Avaaz petition has been developed with the following link: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/South_Africas_new_Minister_of_Miner....