By John Yeld, GroundUp
A settlement agreement has been reached between a diamond mining company on the West Coast, an environmental pressure group and local fishing communities.
According to the settlement agreement, important conservation areas on the West Coast – especially the Olifants River Estuary and several other small areas of important biodiversity – will not be handed over to the diamond mining company Trans Hex Group, the main respondent in this case, in the future.
The agreement also ensures that the company’s future operations will be conducted in accordance with up-to-date environmental management programs.
The settlement was reached out of court, hours before these parties were to begin a long and very expensive litigation process in the High Court in Cape Town.
RNews previously reported that the applicants in the case – the environmental pressure group Protect the West Coast, two small-scale fishing groups from Doring Bay and the Olifants River Mouth, and two individual fishermen from Doring Bay – have turned to court to contest the renewal of the mining rights.
The rights, originally granted to the group in 1990, were earlier extended by the government for the next 30 years.
The applicants in the case claim they were not informed about the renewals and did not have the opportunity to comment on them. They believe they were also ignored when the original rights were awarded to the company between 1994 and 1998.
However, the settlement agreement put a stop to an application for an interdict halting diamond mining operations, pending legal considerations regarding the relevant mining rights. This means that the legitimacy of the government’s controversial granting of 30-year grants to mining rights, without any public participation or notification, cannot be challenged for the time being.
Important points in the settlement agreement include:
- The Trans Hex Group and its contractors are prohibited from carrying out mining activities for 2.8 km of the Olifants River mouth on the coast.
- No beach or coastal mining will take place in three other conservation areas: an 11 km strip from the Olifants River mouth to the south of Strandfontein and two beach sections north of the river.
- The Trans Hex Group will – as far as reasonably practicable – apply to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy within six months to update, amend and consolidate existing and approved environmental management programs dating back to 2003. This will apply to its three offshore West Coast diamond mining concessions that include corresponding surf and beach zones.
- If this application is successful, the applicants, local communities, BirdLife South Africa conservation group, and the two local municipalities can comment on and make recommendations in the approval process.
- The adapted environmental management programs will evaluate the cumulative effects of the Trans Hex Group’s operations, as well as identify any potential influence of such operations on climate change.
- The company’s diamond mining operations will be subject to up to four annual inspections by representatives of the applicants.
- Through specialist studies, other potential areas in the Olifants Estuary region that are not favorable for mining will be assessed.
- The Trans Hex Group must separately identify the impacts and mitigation measures required for its mining operations.
- The statutory requirements for mine closure plans and funding for such plans must be part of the application for revised environmental management programs.
- After submitting its application to the department, the Trans Hex group must ensure that any required public participation process includes “meaningful and adequate” involvement by disadvantaged coastal communities, including the Doring Bay and Olifants River small-scale fishing communities.
Environmentalists welcome agreement
Protect the West Coast welcomed the settlement agreement, but warned that the deal was just one step to ensure properly regulated mining along the West Coast.
“Although this result is certainly a victory, it is only one small battle won in the ongoing war against inadequately regulated mining on the West Coast. There is still a lot of work to be done and the fight against illegal mining on the West Coast is far from over,” says Mike Schlebach, Protect the West Coast’s managing director.
“But this victory has shown us what is possible in our goal to protect the West Coast on behalf of its communities, as well as its flora and fauna.”
Marco Wentzel, CEO of the Trans Hex Group, said in his response that the settlement makes it “quite clear” that the applicants have not achieved their main objective, because the company’s mining operations continue and its mining rights are still in force.
“We believe the settlement arose out of a need for the applicants to avoid an adverse judgment and costs order, hence the settlement terms which favor Trans Hex’s continued operations,” says Wentzel.
“The company had already begun to review its environmental management programs before the case began, and it will now turn its attention back to completing this process within the time frames prescribed in the court order.
“Trans Hex maintains that its operations were and continue to be legal and, more importantly, continue to benefit the local community and contractors in an area with sparse economic activity and job opportunities.”
- This post was originally published on GroundUp and is used with permission on RNews.