Limpopo - The Blue Scorpions have pounced on a mining company that has come under fire for its plans to flood a mining pit in an area set aside for a pioneering project that would unite the Pilanesberg and Madikwe nature reserves.

“What we’re investigating are numerous alleged transgressions, but our investigations are still at a sensitive stage,” said Nigel Adams, the director of the Blue Scorpions, the enforcement arm of the Department of Water Affairs, this week over its investigation of the mining activities of Platmin, which is operating on the fringes of the Pilanesberg nature reserve.

Last month, the Saturday Star reported on Platmin’s plans to flood the Tuschenkomst open pit as part of its revised closure procedure, instead of backfilling and rehabilitating the pit, in an area earmarked for the proposed Heritage Park wildlife corridor.

This ecotourism project has drawn the support of provincial conservation authorities and landowners to create a migration corridor for the big five.

But Platmin’s plans have drawn the ire of environmental groups such as the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), which has now laid criminal charges against Platmin, because the mine has been operating without a valid water use licence for several years, although it insists it has a “draft” water use licence, issued by the department.

Adams told the Saturday Star that there was no such document as a “draft” water licence.

“I’m not aware of a draft water licence from a legal perspective. The National Water Act is very clear when we talk about authorisation. From an administrative point of view, from the results of our investigation, we could stop the use of water at the mine, but we will look at the seriousness of the contravention.”

The FSE also argues that plans to flood the pit will affect the Heritage Park’s tourism and conservation potential, and that the development of the Tuschenkomst pit requires the diversion of the Wilgespruit.

“The FSE furthermore alleges that the mine’s operations since 2009 were unlawful (its historical and current operations) and that its proposed operations (future operations), in terms of its revised closure plan and extension of the Tuschenkomst pit, have not been authorised in terms of the National Water Act,” said chief executive Mariette Liefferink.

Platmin responds

“Platmin is not aware of any investigation by the ‘Blue Scorpions’, and has written to the Department of Water Affairs to understand whether this is so. Should there be an investigation, the company will co-operate fully with the authorities,” says spokeswoman Charmane Russell.

“The department will be fully aware that the company is not in possession of a fully authorised water use licence. We understand that the department is working to address the situation.”

She maintains that an application for a water use licence was made to the department in 2009, and the company “has engaged extensively with the department since then on this”.

Russell confirms that the department provided it with a “draft” document as part of the engagement in respect of the water use licence. The company understands that it is not an authorisation, but a draft version of the licence document.

“The company has continued to act in line with the requirements and provisions of its environmental management programme, which has been duly authorised by the Department of Mineral Resources, and which does include the temporary diversion of the river.”

Platmin has argued that the flooded pit would provide an “extremely valuable water resource” in the area and that it does not significantly threaten the Heritage Park corridor.

Saturday Star