Development v ecology: it has to be a win-win situation, all round

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ST Modderfontein wetland03

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110612. The wetland area in Modderfontein outside Johannesburg. 930 Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

ANNA COX

anna.cox@inl.co.za

CONCERN has been expressed by environmentalists and residents about the possible destruction of the Modderfontein wetland, the second largest in Joburg.

Heartland, a subsidiary of AECI, is busy with the Westlake development, which is an extension of the Longmeadow Business Estate, adjacent to Lakeside Village.

But the company has assured the public that R8 million is being spent to repair the wetland which has been degraded over the years by upstream factories including those in Sebenza and the Kelvin Power Station.

Heartland has given the assurance that no development other than rehabilitation, will take place in the delineated wetland.

ST Modderfontein wetland01

110612. The wetland area in Modderfontein outside Johannesburg. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

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Paul Fairall, a wetlands expert, is rehabilitating a section of the wetland.

He says the Westlake wetland is extremely rich in biodiversity both in grasslands and bird life.

“In 40 years of field/veld work, I have never encountered such an abundance of burrows and runs of small mammals.

“With a total of 285 birds on their list they have possibly the largest concentration of raptors in South Africa, per acreage,” he said.

There also are reedbuck, water mongoose, Cape clawless otter, jackals and Marsh Sylph butterflies. Grass owls have also been seen.

There are approximately 4 000 hectares to hunt on, but with the rapid development of the AECI Modderfontein property, the development of Waterval in nearby Midrand, the proposed development of the Chloorkop lands and the densification of Linbro Park, this will leave only 275 hectares of the conservation park within the next 15 years.

ST Modderfontein wetland02

110612. Riverine and Wetland Remedial Consultants and Associates Paul Fairall around the wetland area in Modderfontein outside Johannesburg. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

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He said there should be concern for, among others, grass owls, Korhaans, Blue cranes and seedeaters.

“This is an extremely important sub-catchment of the Jukskei River and inter alia the Crocodile East/Marico/Limpopo catchment area. It serves as a flushing/dilution effect on the highly, sewage polluted, Jukskei River. It is of the utmost importance to view a wetland system within a catchment context and not in isolated segments,” he said.

The E.coli count at Marlboro Drive is an average of 364 000 per 100 ml of water. It is also important to know that the sandy soils on the Halfway House granite dome form a massive sponge effect, he said.

Heartland claims that as part of the development, an upgrade of the wetland will take place.

It will be rehabilitated and made to be more accessible to the community.

Chantelle Mathomes, marketing manager of Heartland, said the functions of a wetland are primarily cleaning, purification and attenuation of water.

“Currently the wetland at Westlake does not perform these functions to a satisfactory level. The lack of effective stormwater management within the upper catchment area has resulted in decreased infiltration of water, causing increased surface water run-off into the wetland system.”

The wetland is in a degraded state, as erosion is taking place in its centre. This results in the ecological functionality of the wetland being diminished and eventually it will cease to exist.

“Various stakeholders, including the City of Joburg’s environmental management department, and specialists were engaged to develop a solution which will restore the wetland, benefit the community and be sustainable.

“Fauna and flora studies were also undertaken and no red data species were found on site. The implementation of this plan will enhance the environment as it will result in an improved ecological system where fauna and flora can be re-established in future.”

This new approach of upgrading and incorporating the wetland into a development has been endorsed by the city which views this method as unique, she said. The adjoining residential estate of Lakeside Village was consulted throughout the process.

“Heartland views the wetland as an asset and, therefore, is incorporating its rehabilitation into the development.”

A new, low-cost housing project, called Westlake residential development, is also to be established on adjoining land, the aim of which is to alleviate congestion in Alexandra. Not everyone is happy, however.

Ekurhuleni councillor Heather Hart says she has been at loggerheads with Heartland ever since they started constructing Greenstone which was supposed to be developed into a low-density housing estate.

She says black backed jackal and grass owls used to breed there before development started.

She says she is concerned at the possible destruction of the wetland.

Mathomes, however, says the company has invited Hart to engage with them over her concerns.


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