Dissent over oasis park project

The project has raised questions for the men, who believe unless satisfactorily answered, it should be halted.
January 11, 2019

THE proposed oasis development in the Bluff valley, known as Van Riebeeck Park, has raised concerns from Bluff Ratepayers Association chairman Ivor Alyward and former councillor and Bluff historian Duncan du Bois.
The valley land along Garcin Place known as Van Riebeeck Park (VRP) lies south of Harlequins.
The development has been through various engagements and planning sessions by the city’s environmental planning and climate protection department (EPCPD). A proposed wetland of around 35,000m2 (3.5-hectares) is located within the larger 160,000m2 (16ha) site, which has been cleared to make way for the eco-tourism park. However, the project has raised questions for the men, who believe unless satisfactorily answered, it should be halted.
The land’s history as a landfill in the 1950s until the end of the 60s is a red flag for Du Bois. “The area was once a wetland which was turned into a landfill. Vast amounts of contaminated, non-biodegradable material lie metres below the surface. As a result, it is not suitable for the construction of a water feature. In order to excavate to a sufficient depth, vast amounts of topsoil will be accumulated. How and where will that be disposed of ?” he asked.
Ward 66 councillor JP Prinsloo countered that a geotechnical report carried out by GCS Geotechnical in April 2017 found the site was overlaid with Berea red soil to a depth of two metres. Beneath this they found a predominance of builders rubble and household rubble. “The report made no findings or comment regarding the presence of any contaminated waste. The findings were used as the basis for future planning of the project. All earthworks and basin shaping had to take place within the Berea red cap, and could not go too deep,” he said.

Another contention is the clay relocated from Clairwood Park Racecourse site, and that it will not form an instant insulation barrier to hold water. “That natural process takes decades and more compacting to evolve. The water content for the proposed basin is to be sourced from stormwater drains. The nearest stormwater run-off is in Garcin Place, so this supply source is hopelessly inadequate and, barring excessive rainfall, could only result in an unsightly mud bath,” added Du Bois. Prinsloo responded that wetland habitats exist in several different forms. “The project aims to replicate as best possible the hygrophilous grassland habitat lost at the racecourse. This habitat does not require the presence of permanent saturation to exist but rather relies on shorter periods of inundation in the root zone, followed by periods of drying out,” said Cllr Prinsloo. The addition of the clay to the basin will help to create soil conditions that are wetter than current and thus more conducive to the grassland’s restoration. The primary water source for the created wetland will be direct rainfall. The stormwater runoff from Garcin Place will be an additional supply, but it is not critical to the project.

Du Bois alleges it was proposed that clay from the Clairwood Park Racecourse be dumped at the Tugela River mouth. However, that was found to be too distant and uneconomical. “Is there any connection between the dumping of that clay in the valley and the emergence of a plan to create a water feature based on the clay deposits? Historically, the Bluff was a dumping ground for lepers, quarantining of diseases, relocation of coaling wharves and the siting of the whaling station,” he added. After much research, the formal offset was situated north of the Tugela mouth. “While that was in line with offset planning, it did not take away from the fact that communities in the South Durban Basin were still losing an environmental asset and because of where the offset was situated, would not benefit from the Tugela offset,” said Cllr Prinsloo. As such, the developers of the Clairwood Logistics Park agreed to an informal environmental compensation situated in the South Durban Basin. The VR project incorporates three key components – environmental restoration and recreation, recreational inclusion, and environmental education.
Aylward said the cycle of contamination will continue, thanks to the contaminated sand from the site’s history as a 1950s landfill. “We want to know where they are going to dump the heaps of contaminated sand they have dug up here. Which area are they going to pollute now?”
According to Prinsloo, three independent lab tests were conducted to determine whether the relocated soil contained any contaminants which could be harmful. “None of the tests indicated any high levels of contaminants within the clay received from the racecourse. The three tests were conducted by the CPF, SDCEA, and EPCPD,” he said.
Du Bois and Aylward pointed out that although the Sun’s report dated October 19 made reference to removal of indigenous plants, this does not appear to be happening as front-end loaders plow up the area unsupervised. “The same report claims inhabitants of the ecosystem such as chameleons have been relocated. Again, the unsupervised bulldozing raises doubts. Moreover, if those creatures were salvaged, where are they now? Since chameleons are territorial, relocating them is not only disruptive but may be fatal to them,” said Alyward.
Prinsloo said prior to any work, ecologists undertook site visits and marked out plant populations to be rescued. Some plants were removed from the site individually and others picked up mechanically and kept on site to be used during the reseeding and replanting phases. “Two-night sweeps were carried out to relocate chameleons to outside the footprint. In the alien clearing process, woody plants were felled and left on site to allow chameleons present to move out of the area.”
Regarding protected plants, he said those to be rescued were marked with danger tape. “The contractor has uplifted these areas and stored the plant material on an undisturbed part of the site. Plants rescued were a colony of Gladiolus dalenii and a colony of Hypoxis hemerocallidea. These will be replanted in the revegetation process,” he said.

Aylward questioned why the neglected Bluff Showgrounds site wasn’t rather identified for revamp. “Given the vandalism of the showgrounds and the failure of the municipality to maintain that site, what are the prospects that the proposed oasis site will be any different? They should be maintaining what we have now, like the showgrounds, instead of wasting millions on this development. It doesn’t make sense,” he added.

The duo also queried the proximity of the evolving informal settlement. “What safety and security measures are envisaged?” asked Du Bois. They said since the initial sharing of information in September 2017, there have been no follow-up progress reports. Budget-related questions in light of the proposed beach upgrade project, have never been clarified, said Du Bois. “The failure to present updated information, in terms of transparency and accountability, is unacceptable and unconstitutional.”
Cllr Prinsloo said two public meetings informed the community of the development. “The public had an opportunity to engage with officials about the budget, relocation of the clay from Clairwood, safety and security issues and various other topics. Neither Mr Aylward nor Mr Du Bois attended these meetings. Multiple articles were also published in the Sun, on social media and various WhatsApp groups to keep community members informed about progress,” said Cllr Prinsloo.


Van Riebeeck Park oasis takes shape

The basin shaping, along with replanting, should be finalised by the end of this year.
October 18, 2018

THE redevelopment of Van Riebeeck Park into a natural educational oasis is well on its way to becoming a reality.

The parcel of valley land along Garcin Place known as Van Riebeeck Park (VRP) lies south of Bluff’s Harlequins Sports Club.

For the past year various engagements and planning sessions were conducted with the city’s environmental planning and climate protection department (EPCPD) to redevelop VRP. Strategies had to be developed to ensure maximum benefits could be achieved for the environment through the development, which would also serve to link the project to the Bluff’s greening strategy. Innovative ideas on how space could be used for educational and eco-tourism opportunities had to be included in the design of the natural space to fully capitalise on the project’s potential.

“After consultation with key stakeholders within the community, the final design was completed. The design includes walking and running paths, bird hides, various water catchment areas, picnic spaces, lookout towers, a pet wash zone and various grasslands,” said ward 66 councillor JP Prinsloo.

He added the access to water on the site was vital to ensure the restoration project’s success, especially as it sustains fauna and flora. “Due to the complicated topography of the site, city engineers had to devise a fool-proof design to ensure water supply would not become a stumbling block for the development of the park. The design of a stormwater outlet was the main reason for the delayed implementation of the project,” he said.

The stormwater design was finally completed by city engineers last week and the project is set to commence within the next few weeks.

To facilitate the shaping of water basins at the site, EPCPD relocated clay from the old Clairwood racecourse. Indigenous and rare plant material was also harvested for relocation to the VRP site once the basin shaping has been concluded. The department has secured an alien invasive removal contract, to remove and replace all invasive trees and plants within the area with indigenous trees. The invasive tree removal plan will be implemented in four phases. An intensive sweep has been co-ordinated by EPCPD to relocate any chameleons and other animals which could be affected during the project. These will be returned to their natural habitat on the project’s completion.

“We have also acquired the assistance of the Urban Development Engineering department to design detailed conceptual drawings of all the recreational spaces to ensure an uniformed look and feel is created for the entire precinct. These designs will speak directly to plans and strategies being devised for the Bluff Showgrounds and the surrounding areas. By creating strategic partnerships with local tourism organisation, SODURBA and the Wildlife and Environment Society South Africa (WESSA), the long-term usage of VRP would ensure this natural space becomes another jewel in our community,” he added. “This is an exciting development for our community and could result in more services, increased tourism, improving our local economy and ultimately building a brighter, better, more beautiful Bluff.”

The basin shaping, along with replanting, should be finalised by the end of this year.