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St Francis residents to fight the Kromme wind farm

Do we want to be known as the ‘energy hub’ of South Africa? asked angry St Francis Bay home owners following the governmental go ahead for a wind farm to be developed on their doorstep.

Residents believe the latest plan to start a wind farm across the river from their homes will have huge, negative impact on not only their lives but those of the entire community. They are prepared to fight the development of the wind turbine cluster closest to them and the use of the R330 road as an access road to the first wind turbine cluster at Oyster Bay.

Red Cap Investments was on 13 June 2011, given the go ahead by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to develop a wind farm in Kouga. Red Cap proposes a wind farm of up to 121 wind turbines near St Francis Bay, Oyster Bay and Paradise Beach that will span three areas: eastern cluster (27 turbines) near to St Francis Bay and Paradise Beach, just across the Kromme River on the Humansdorp side; the central cluster (41 turbines) close to Oyster Bay; and the western cluster (53 turbines) close to the mouth of the Tsitsikamma River.

“We cannot be a tourist and energy hub,“ says Bridget Elton a St Francis Bay resident – “It’s one or the other.”

She advises that with no less than 10 wind farms and around 520 turbines proposed for Kouga,“ the cumulative effect will be devastating.”

Elton believes revenue from tourism is vital to South Africa’s economy. “Natural beauty cannot be manufactured. This pristine area around St Francis needs to be preserved – we are part of a prime tourist destination region.”

Many home owners are upset that the Kouga region is being targeted by Wind Farm Developers. The wind farm that will have the greatest effect on St Francis Bay, they say, is the one proposed for the eastern Cluster between Paradise Beach and St Francis Bay. The nearest two wind turbines will be 1.5km from the coastline.

“The siting of turbines here is likely to have the biggest visual impact on those living on the St Francis side of the Kromme River, but all properties with a view of the Kromme will be seriously affected,” Elton continues.

Andre Fouche whose property like many of the complainants lies directly opposite this proposed cluster says: “Residents of the area could face years of misery and loss of value of their properties. Some properties will become so devalued that people could be trapped in them for years. Already one seller had to accept 20% less.”

A public meeting was held by Red Cap in St Francis Bay last week that according to many attendees’ feedback, “was a brilliant PR job for the company but only infuriated and frustrated us more.” At this meeting Mark Tanton of Red Cap claimed international research shows property values only decrease during construction of the wind farms, that the development will benefit the community, that each cluster will take at least nine months to develop and that the wind farms are tourist attractions.

Present at the meeting were about 12 farmers on whose land the turbines will be erected and who will be compensated for this inconvenience, Red Cap says. Several of these farmers criticised St Francis residents for always complaining about developments. ”But they have developments there?” – to which at least one resident retorted: “There is a big difference between a beautiful village and ugly wind turbines!”

Fouche and others believe the community as a whole will not benefit much, apart from some farmers. “They too will face all the inconvenience that these proposed activities will bring to residents of the whole area,” he says.

Also only five labourers per turbine will be required and only for a limited period.

“There are many traders in the area who believe they will benefit from these activities, but the combined effects of the unsightly turbines and the massive traffic dislocation will put tourists off our area. It will also deter potential buyers of property for many years. Why buy in a place with ongoing threats and disruptions?”

As for the visual impact, Elton says few understand how enormous these turbines are. Compare in size to the Cape St Francis lighthouse:

Aggrieved residents say they are not against the building of wind farms per se but on the placing of them across the river in front of their homes. They feel that in St Francis Bay and Paternoster the erection of wind farms will severely damage the ‘sense of place’ and appeal as tourist towns.”

In addition they believe that though all other mitigating factors, such as birds and noise, were covered in the Final EIA Report, the ‘human element’ was missing, that is, the effect of wind farms on the lives of people living in the area.

“The developers are not taking communities’ concerns seriously,” says Elton, and John Hammond adds that people and communities do not appear to be an important part of the environment! “Instead of people having a weighting of 50%+ in any assessment, it appears we will be lucky if we are included at all in the key criteria – or at most may rate 5% in any final decision,” he says. This is not acceptable and action must be taken to redefine the process.”

Hammond believes the main issue is not about farmers but about developers simply ignoring the human impact in search of financial gain. “There’s nothing wrong with financial gain but do it in a way that does not affect the lifestyle of thousands of people. The meeting held on 7th July was clearly weighted in favour of those who stood to gain financially from the project.”

An issue that horrifies residents “used to our peace, quiet and joy of savouring the unspoilt beauty of the place, where we have bought homes” is the impending transportation of gigantic turbine parts on the R330 from as soon as May 2012.

They claim the massive impact of the construction phase for these mega activities is played down. “The construction phase for the Thyspunt Nuclear plant is estimated to be at least nine years; the construction phase for the first wind cluster near Oyster Bay will only be at least nine months to a year,” says Fouche.

“We have just witnessed the disruption and stress caused to residents by the collapse of the Sand River bridge. This will pale into insignificance compared to the huge congestion and traffic dislocation which will result from the monopolising of the only road into St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis.

Fouche maintains the R330 was not designed for enormous trucks trundling vast weights along it and over our bridges. “We cannot allow our only road to be disrupted. Otherwise not only St Francis residents but those commuting from Humansdorp and Jeffreys Bay will be badly affected.

He and other residents are prepared to finance and raise funds “to legally fight and protect our corner before it is too late.”

In summation, another resident Sandra Hardie makes the following observations:

The St Francis Wind Action Group (Swag) has also come out against the proposed wind farms. Headed up by Maggie Langlands, the organisation has lodged its intention to appeal against the Kouga wind farms and the result will be known in November this year.