Kropz warns court bid to suspend licence will hurt environment

The Langebaan Lagoon

KROPZ has hit back at environmental groups opposing its proposed R1.5bn Elandsfontein phosphate mine situated near the ecologically sensitive Langebaan Lagoon in South Africa’s Western Cape province, saying their efforts will backfire if they succeed in having the firm’s water use licence (WUL) suspended.

“If over time we are not be able to continue to safely pump the water out of the Elandsfontein aquifer around our open pit and allow it to filter back into the aquifer in accordance with our dewatering system design, the pit will flood,” said Michelle Lawrence, technical director for Kropz in a statement.

“If dewatering stops for an extended period, the pit will increase in size due to erosion of its sidewalls by the water; the volume of water in the pit will increase significantly; and the water quality will deteriorate, negatively impacting groundwater,” Lawrence added.

Groundup re-published an article it produced in the Daily Maverick on October 13 that the West Coast Environmental Protection Agency (WCEPA) filed an urgent interdict in the Western Cape High Court against Kropz Elandsfontein and the Minister and Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation.

“The NGO said in court papers that a water use licence is automatically suspended under the National Water Act once an appeal to the government’s issuing of the licence has been lodged. The suspension lasts until the appeal is decided. The WCEPA had lodged an appeal with the Water Tribunal in June,” it said.

According to Walter Anderson at Cullinans and Associates, who lodged the appeal on behalf of the West Coast Environmental Protection Association (WCEPA), Kropz continues to dewater the aquifer despite knowledge the appeal suspended its water licence, and despite not having challenged the validity of the appeal in the tribunal or court.

“Kropz’s wilful and unlawful flouting of the principle of legality leaves WCEPA with no option but to approach the courts for urgent relief in the public interest,” said Anderson

Kropz disputes that the licence is suspended.

Kropz had spent R6m on groundwater studies in an effort to derisk the likelihood of contamination of the Langebaan Lagoon, said Lawrence.

“Importantly, all groundwater monitoring we have done since we began the dewatering and recharge of the aquifer shows these actions are not having a negative impact on it,” said Dr Fanie Botha, one of Kropz’s groundwater specialists.

Nicola Viljoen, WCEPA Treasurer, said that while it may cost Kropz money to rectify the effects on the pit wall following the suspension of the WUL, but there was “… no reason to believe that it will cause any significant environmental harm over and above the harm already caused by Kropz”.

“Kropz’s current actions are unlawful, and if the pit floods and the walls begin to erode Kropz has only itself to blame,” said Viljoen.

The interdict is the latest setback for Kropz which on August 15 said it had put the 1.5 million tonnes/year phosphate operation on hold owing to a combination of regulatory, market and technical problems. Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital has shares in the Elandsfontein project which is an initiative of Mike Nunn, a mining entrepreneur who is best known for founding Tanzanite One.