The proposed double Gamma-Grassridge 765kW transmission power lines that will service the giant Coega development at Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape could result in Eskom having to buy out entire game ranches and ecotourism operations along the route in the bushveld. Turnover from game-related tourism has increased by up to 45% in this area, according to a draft environmental impact report prepared for Eskom by ACER (Africa) environmental management consultants.
The report says the potential negative economic impact on tourism and ecotourism will not be eased by changing the route of the lines, and affected property owners will have to be properly compensated for loss of income and loss of value caused by the huge structures running through their farms. The lines will start at Secunda and go through the Free State before transecting the Karoo between Victoria West and Port Elizabeth. Currently, the final section of the preferred corridor for the lines follows the relatively flat and accessible terrain along the R75 through Wolwefontein, past Kirkwood to Uitenhage – an area where nearly 40% of the land is now being used for game farming, hunting and ecotourism.
According to the report, suggested alternative corridors for the powerlines, such as one going further south through the Steytlerville Karoo, are not recommended. In heritage terms, the Steytlerville subcorridor is a “no-go” area because its largely unspoiled landscape is being developed for ecotourism, conservation and because of its scenic qualities. There is also more potential for linkages between properties along this corridor and the Greater Baviaanskloof Wilderness area. In addition, part of this section is mountainous and difficult to access without causing severe erosion. The report says calls to bury the lines or to build them on top of one another – which would require 80m-high towers – would be too complex and expensive. Constructing the two lines in parallel within a 160m-wide servitude is environmentally more acceptable than two separate lines built far apart, as was initially planned. ccording to ACER, concerns about electromagnetic fields are unfounded as studies on behaviour and health have found such fields have minimal or no effect on plants or animals. As for biodiversity, birds colliding with transmission line conductors and earth wires are probably the most serious threats to species such as cranes and bustards. ACER believes birds are unlikely to be electrocuted on lines of this size due the large clearance between live and grounded hardware.
Also, the consultants feel the towers actually provide nesting for some species, which might benefit by increased perch availability in treeless sections of the Karoo. Further meetings will be held with all stakeholders early next year. – Roelof Bezuidenhout Contact Eskom on (035) 340 2715 or e-mail [email protected]