Canyon Coal’s prospected mine – Disaster looming for locals already?

The original plan was amended after health implications were too severe for nearby residents on neighbouring farms, Vaalkop with its 9 occupants and Witrand, where over 60 people reside.

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The Bulletin Newspaper

Affected and Interested Parties (AIP’s) are concerned as they still don’t have definite answers from Canyon Coal (Little Snipe) who intends on opening another opencast coal mine in Ward 15, near Bethal. The ward already has 11 operational mines.
The new prospected mine, Witfontein, is situated approximately 13km North-West of Bethal and holds little to no benefits for the broader local community or local jobseekers.
Divan van der Merwe from EXN Advisory Services and Clifford Hallet and Dawid Venter, both from Canyon Coal, made many promises during the last public meeting that was held in October last year where AIP’s raised their concerns with the revised plan.
The original plan was amended after health implications were too severe for nearby residents on neighbouring farms, Vaalkop with its 9 occupants and Witrand, where over 60 people reside.
On this meeting, concerns about several issues were raised again, the main being air quality, surface water, underground water, safety, rehabilitation and road usage. “If we have to listen to every farmer that throws a tantrum when we want to start a mine on his farm, South Africa won’t have any coal,” Clifford sarcastically told The Bulletin during the very heated public meeting last year.
Divan and Clifford, during the meeting, said they would take the new complaints into consideration before releasing the final EIA and EMP reports. When the reports were received however, not much changed and AIP’s main concerns were ignored.
All that the community could basically get out of them thus far was that experts were appointed, in-depth studies done and their statistics and research can be trusted.
One of their “experts”, Mashadi Monaledi from Atlegang Social Intelligence’s sources included in her SIA (Social Impact Assessment) report, was that of Govan Mbeki Local Municipality. Another statistic that was used was the 2011 sensus, which stated that 97% of GMM residents get weekly refuse removal services, something that is not true in 2018, nor was it in 2017 when the meeting was held. Thus the statistics used to get licenses can’t be trusted. “The specialist’s report is flawed in total. Firstly, the data used and assumptions made is either outdated and of no integrity,” Vlam Venter, owner of Farm Vaalkop, said.
Canyon Coal hammered on how excellent rehabilitation will be and that you will hardly notice that there were mine activities when they are done, but to this date, Canyon Coal has not had one successfull rehabilitation of a closed mine. “We will gladly give you the contact details of neighbouring farmers from our other projects, then you can hear from them if we stick to our agreements,” Clifford said during the public meeting. It is almost six month later and Canyon Coal has not fulfilled this small promise, even after various e-mails requesting this information.
Vlam went to see the DMR as he and other residents feel that Canyon Coal waters down their issues. “It is our honest belief that the consulting companies compiling the environmental reports are, for obvious reasons, biased towards the mining applications. All our concerns are mentioned, but heavily softened and mitigated,” Vlam said.
“We are very concerned that the DMR might not see the total picture with regards to the different applications by mining companies in our area,” Vlam told Aubry Tshivhandekano, Regional Manager of Mpumalanga DMR.
The prospected opencast will open approximately 850m from Farm Vaalkop’s four residences and will directly impact the residents negatively.
“We as a community do understand the strategic importance of mining for South Africa. If every application for mining rights is evaluated in isolation, it might make sense in some cases. The total effect however, will be disastrous,” Vlam told Aubry.
“Sasol Mining already owns the mining rights on farm Vaalkop 104 IS and has existing infrastructure for underground mining. They are applying to consolidate their Vaalkop rights with their existing activities at Thubelisha. Directly adjacent to these rights, Canyon Coal (Little Snipe) is applying for mining rights, involving two open cast pits and washing/processing facilities across the vitally important Piekiespruit,” Vlam said.
“What is of an even bigger concern, is that they plan to transport the coal by road on a provincial gravel road which will most certainly lead to a huge disaster,” Vlam said.
“We proposed, if mining has to be done, that as an alternative to opencast pits and road transport, Sasol Mining rather explore the coal underground by means of their infrastructure.”
After construction, which will last two years, once the mining development is operational, around a 100 000ton coal will be hauled along the D450 (Alexander road) to the railway siding near Bethal each month. The mine will be operational for 10 years, with another two years for rehabilitation thereafter.
“Road legal 30t side tippers or similar vehicles will be used for coal haulage. Over a 16-hour period a day, around 208 truck trips can be expected. A further 12 bus trips and 122 light vehicle trips per day can be expected for the approximate 80 staff required for the operation,” the TIA (Traffic Impact Assessment) report stated. The report was compiled by CC le Roux, Project Director from JG Afrika.
“It was found that the impact and mitigation measures were not that sensitive to reasonable variations in the above assumptions,” CC said.
He motivated the surfacing of the gravel road in his report as this can be less maintenance cost and safer, but also said: “The highest AADT is expected to be 280 vehicles on the Bethal leg of the D450 and this is well below the threshold for a road authority.”
The following mitigating measures and recommendations were made by him for the gravel road:
1. Replace the drainage structure at the mine access.
2. Replace or extend some culverts in the road.
3. Increase the cover over culverts for structural protection.
4. Increase the road width to 10m.
5. Replace the wearing course and develop a maintenance plan.
6. Consider dust suppression.
7. Additional road signs are recommended as the current ones are below standard.
8. Inform the road authority of the development and obtain a wayleave.
9. During the planning phase, it should be considered that there are limitations imposed by the bridges as to abnormally heavy or wide loads.
This is their 9 point mitigation plan to make it safer, but none of residents’ questions were answered (again).
Residents has a problem with:
1. Who will be liable for damages caused by the trucks on the roads. Who is going to replace windscreens and pay for damages caused by gravel and rocks hitting their cars.
2. There are numerous young children hiking or walking to school or travelling by car or schoolbus on the Alexander road daily. There is also a school adjacent to this road.
3. Mist, road conditions and animals were not taken into consideration.
4. The way trucks drive is a huge road safety concern for AIP’s.
5. Big farm implements using the roads, were not taken into consideration.
6. Farmers move cattle from camp to camp, using the main road as passage. This was also not taken into consideration.
It is evident that none of Canyon Coal’s report will solve even one of residents’ concerns about the road.
Another concern was safety. One resident of Farm Vaalkop, requested to either be relocated or to get additional safety measures, paid for by Canyon Coal. This request was wiped under the rug and Canyon Coal and EXN hasn’t said a word about this. “As if I was speaking to the walls, but this is my farm as well. This is my future, my safety, my life, my money and my car,” the resident said.
“Our concerns were proven correct by the report! The people affected most will not benefit at all. Also, evaluating our existing properties on an agricultural value as planned will be totally unfair to us, who invested heavily in residential infrastructure because of the favourable positioning close to industry,” Vlam commented on the EIP report.
It is clear that EXN and Canyon Coal’s words and actions are two very different things and construction on the mine has not even started yet. It is also clear that they make use of incorrect data and research in order to get licenses, without taking AIP’s concerns into consideration. From the reports it seems like the promises of locals getting work, are just that….A promise. – Gwendie Venter

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