By Heinz de Boer
Several North Durban ratepayers' associations have loudly denounced the proposed King Shaka International Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) scoping report days after forming the joint La Mercy Environmental Forum.
Comprising representatives from the North Coast's main ratepayers' associations, the forum is expected to evaluate and object to possible noise pollution and economic and environmental impacts associated with the R1,2-billion venture.
The heavily populated and exclusive residential areas such as La Mercy, Umhlanga, Mt Moreland, Westbrook, Tongaat, Ballito and Verulam are expected to be directly affected by airport noise pollution and are represented in the forum. A contingent of Virginia Airport based aviators has also joined the forum.
To be built by 2010, King Shaka International will replace the ageing Durban International which will be sold to an as yet undisclosed business consortium. Although the government has fast-tracked the airport and passenger terminal phases, the project remains subject to an intensive EIA process that has raised strong objections mainly on the basis of possible noise pollution.
Forum chairperson, Terry Bengis has labelled the report as "wishy washy" and said a number of business and environmental issues seem to have been papered over.
Bengis is a former member of the environmental committee that dealt with concerns at the massive Johannesburg International.
He said that the airport's business plan was untested, while the potential noise pollution factor remains of massive concern.
The airport would also lead to the disturbance of a variety of protected bird and antelope species, including the blue duiker, he said.
"One would have thought that for such a serious project the Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS) would have been consulted. They have not been consulted and until a proper study of the new airport flight paths has been undertaken, nothing can be formalised.
"At the moment everything that has been proposed is pure speculation and the drawing of lines on a map that cross major residential areas is not final. I don't think government has the right to spend even 10 cents of taxpayer's money until the many issues are addressed," Bengis said.
He confirmed that a number of experts was being consulted by the forum before it would make formal comment and possible objections.
Author of the scoping report, Jenny Mander of the Institute of Natural Resources refused to comment on the matter pending the September 30 deadline, when she is expected to release a comments and response document.
Dube Tradeport CEO, Rohan Persad meanwhile welcomed the public input, saying it would help developers avoid the mistakes of the past.
"There will be sceptics and those who believe in the project. The business from Durban International will be relocated to King Shaka International and the added direct international flights will lead to further investment in the economy. There will always be objections, but people now have six weeks in which to raise their concerns," said Persad.