Coastal Management Bill stirs up waters

Who owns the seabed…

A  warning was issued by Adv “Johnny” de Lange, chairman of the portfolio committee on water and environmental affairs, during a debate on the subject of National Environmental Management Coastal Management Bill, that nobody, including Transnet, could own seabed other than the nation itself and that he or his committee would not hear of counter-proposals to this fact.

The subject of the debate was a briefing on the Bill was conducted by the department of water and environmental affairs (DWAF) prior to hearings from the public on the proposed changes. A major submission regarding ownership was known to be coming from Transnet regarding its installations at Durban port.

The  Bill, said de Lange, was attempting to legislate on border or property issues dealing with the changing forces of nature, a fact which was always going to hit problems.  In defining an area of South Africa’s coastal waters so that  a narrow strip of ecologically sensitive land and sea along the outline of the coast falls under the aegis and environmental control of the state, an attempt had been made legislatively and this, as suspected, had become an issue, he said.

Previously rejected

DWAF, as a result of previous committee meetings, had found the Bill rejected on a number of issues particularly involving state lines to be drawn up and affected by high tides, estuarine re-alignments and coastal degradation and the Bill was returned but not rejected for the purpose of re-writing definitions and re-wording various clauses.

The Bill originally was put to public comment in November 2012, receiving 330 submissions on contentious issues that mainly involved the impact of the Bill on coastal state property, definitions that affected the rights of private owners  and disagreements with the environmental objectives of the Bill.

New suggestions

In a series of re-definitions proposed by Adv. Raznack of DWAF, such as removing reference to “water courses”; dealing with definitions of flood levels in terms of ten years phases; and re-defining estuaries issues on the basis of whether they are closed to the sea or not; a compromise set of definitions was put to the portfolio committee on water and environmental affairs.

Canals, which may or may not have an ownership issue, carrying water to the sea were another issue under debate and answers appear to have been provided along lines how sea water backs up and the extent to which it backs up in the canal under question. Various re-definitions and wordings throughout the Bill are now proposed.

Western Cape queries

The new proposals were queried by Adv. Gary Birch of the Western Cape provincial water and environmental affairs, who disagreed with the major re-definitions but who made in his submission with a number of counter-proposals on the wording regarding high-tide water marks.

He pointed to the fact that whilst property lines on a river were generally regarded as being at a middle of a river, this could not apply to massive, changing estuarine areas and called for a new look at this problem, also making certain suggestions. These were found acceptable for discussion by the chair.

Further suggestions by Prof. Jenny Whittall of University of the Western Cape, a renowned expert on such matters, were also taken on board by the portfolio committee with particular reference to estuarine areas.

Transnet yet to submit

Adv. de Lange, the committee chairman considered all the inputs by experts particularly refreshing and useful, since he said he was sure that this Bill could be resolved shortly. When MPs raised the question that Transnet had various port structures that were on the sea bed falling under the ambit of the Bill, Adv. de Lange said he was prepared for this.

He said that whilst he awaited the submission of Transnet, the SOE was quite entitled to own such structures at their risk below sea level or even affected by high tide marks. However, he said, “No way can Transnet, or any such body, own the sea bed. That is South Africa’s and that will be the end of that discussion.”

Refer previous articles in this category
http://parlyreportsa.co.za//health/coastal-environment-proposals-getting-clearer/
http://parlyreportsa.co.za//mining-beneficiation/tougher-rules-ensvisaged-with-new-environmental-law/

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