Ground-breaking judgement in environmental misuse case

York Timbers will appeal a R450 000 fine meted out by the Nelspruit Regional Court on 4 April. The company was fined for widening a forest road at its sawmill and plywood factory in Mpumalanga in 2007, without environmental authorisation.

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This is in addition to an earlier fine of R180 000 after York Timbers pleaded guilty to starting a listed activity without environmental authorisation. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said this was a “ground-breaking judgement”. DEA Spokesperson Albi Modise said it was the first time the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca) had been successfully applied to a contravention of environmental impact assessment legislation.Poca has previously only been used to deprive offenders of the benefits obtained from wildlife crimes.

“Poca is a suitable tool to deter and prevent big companies, like York Timbers, from evading or avoiding their obligations in terms of environmental legislation, and harming our natural heritage,” said Modise. “DEA hopes the judicious application of Poca will discourage such companies from pursuing profit only, and to care for our precious environment in undertaking their operations.”
However, York Timbers said the road was widened to mitigate the effects of noise, dust and light pollution on local residents.

The company had stopped all work when it realised it was a listed activity and conducted a full environmental impact assessment. “York has not benefited from the road, either from an operational or a cost savings perspective,” said the company in a statement.

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The statement added that York was “disappointed with the judgement as it follows a plea bargain which was entered into with the Nelspruit Magistrate Court.” Meanwhile, York subsidiary Agentimber recently purchased Iliad Africa Limited’s timber wholesale business, comprising Germiston-based Thorpe Timber and Cape Town-based Timber Preservation Services, for R45,5 million. The deal was subject to approval from the Competition Commission.