The permit application process for tree relocation on construction sites sometimes ends up delaying a project, especially if the conditions on the site are different from the initial application. Responsible environmental management sometimes means having to drive to the permit office to get the permit in your hands so the project can continue. That's our kind of 'going the extra mile'!
The Foskor 275kV transmission line is an activity which does not require an environmental authorization (or EA) prior to commencement, an activity which we don’t often find ourselves being a part of. Despite the project not being a listed activity, there exists a collective and moral responsibility to manage potential impacts it may have on the environment. Therefore, an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) was developed as a guideline for mitigation and management measures to be implemented to avoid, reduce or eliminate potential environmental impacts during the pre-construction and construction phases of the project. NCC was called in to monitor compliance with these measures on site, and manage the environmental impact of this activity.
The EMP was compiled to give effect to precautionary measures which are to be implemented for managing the planned activities and to ensure compliance with environmental legislative and regulatory requirements. Due to the nature of the project, there are several applicable laws that provide guidelines to the relevant aspects of each activity. Environmental Aspects such as principles of environmental management, protection of species, biodiversity management etc. are regulated by the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA - Act No. 107 of 1998), the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEM:BA - Act No. 10 of 2004), the National Environmental Management Act: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (NEM:PAA - Act No. 57 of 2003) and the National Forestry Act No. 84 of 1998.
BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT
The Foskor Main Transmission Substation forms part of the Lowveld Customer Load Network in the Northern Grid. The proposed upgrade is taking place within the existing Foskor mine property in Phalaborwa within the Ba-phalaborwa Local Municipality in Limpopo Province. There are two tree species which are protected under the National Forests Act - Sclerocarya birrea (Marula Tree) and Philenoptera violacea (Apple Leaf Tree) on the site, as well as many other indigenous trees. For the upgrade to happen the project needs to have a permit to cut, destroy and/or transplant individual protected trees to change the land use.
The project submitted an application to the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries with regards to these trees; who granted Eskom a permit to transplant two Marula trees and to cut an apple leaf tree. Due to the size of the trees (7m high and 3m wide), and their condition, it was unfeasible to transplant these trees as they would have most likely died. During a later site visit it was noted that the site had more Marula and Apple Leaf trees as well as other protected trees on site. This meant that a new amendment of the permit was required before activities could commence.
IMPACT ON THE PROJECT
When construction resumed in January 2015, the Eskom Environmental Officer (EEO) consulted the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries officials with regard to the conditions of the permit stating that it was not suitable to transplant the protected trees, and that an amendment was needed to incorporate the new trees. Although follow ups were made and several attempts to contact the department was made, the project suffered a time delay whilst waiting on the amendment to the permit.
Eventually, after several attempts, the EEO decided to drive to the offices in Louis Trichardt to get the amended permit. The permit was granted for four Marula trees and one Apple leaf tree to be removed from site. As these trees had to be removed, the project will offset their impact by committing to planting replacement trees, not only on site but in the surrounding community as well.
Due to the fact that the initial permit needed to be amended, and that there was a delay in the issuing of the permit, the project lost time, and therefore money. The backlog of permit applications at the department is something that is an ongoing issue, and which needs to be built into the critical path of a project. Involving environmental professionals in the early stages of planning and development provides experience in permit applications as well as the knowledge of the time that these can take. It would also have meant a more thorough site visit potentially resulting in no lost time on the project.
The project is continuing as planned now that the four Marula trees and the one Apple Leaf tree have been removed.