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Proposed windfarm threat to conservancy

InnoWind (Pty) Ltd., the owners of Grahamstown’s wind farm have recently proposed an extension to the existing wind energy project with nine new turbines on the opposite side of Howison’s Poort to the existing installation. This came to light in a presentation recently made to the Makana Council by InnoWind’s Project Developer Daluvuyo Ntsebeza. The proposal plans six turbines along the mountain ridge to the south of Featherstone Kloof, on the Southern Commonage, and three more on Glenthorpe Farm.

Key to the project is access to this mountain ridge, as it is surrounded on all sides except one by steep cliffs. The only viable access route is via the 4km long gravel road leading to The Oldenburgia Conservancy off the N2, close to the Stone Crescent Hotel. This is the historic wagon road that formerly connected Southwell and Salem to Grahamstown in the 19th Century. The road would require complete rebuilding, as it is both narrow and steep. On Glenthorpe Farm the track that leads to the ridge top and the Southern Commonage would have to be remodelled into a major access road, with cuttings and wide curves to allow the transport of long and heavy equipment up the steep mountain side.

Sensitive and beautiful scenery

The project falls right in the centre of the Oldenburgia Conservancy, in some of the most sensitive and beautiful scenery of the Grahamstown district. This area is currently also under threat from illegal cattle grazing, and poaching by people using snares. In November 2015 the Conservancy initiated a process to obtain Protected Area status from The East Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) for the land, including the Featherstone Kloof part of the Southern Commonage, and this process is well under way. This is an area of grassland fynbos with high endemicity (meaning that some plants are unique to this area), including several protected plant species. It is Grahamstown’s only pristine public area.

The proposed wind farm extension would straddle this area, reducing its value and attraction, and dominating Featherstone Kloof, Mountain Drive and several nearby farms. Affected landowners would also experience marked reductions in their land values. Viewed from Mountain Drive, the turbines would extend in a line dominating the southern flank of Featherstone Kloof, as far as the large forest that clings to the slopes at its eastern end above Glenstone and Balcraig farms. The access road would bisect the hilltop slope, scarring the steeper sections with the necessary cuttings, in an area that is currently an undisturbed area of mountain grassland fynbos and king proteas, with many other rare plants such as ground orchids, ericas and tree ferns. The Oldenburgia Hiking Trail, recently revamped at considerable time and expense over a three year period, would effectively cease to exist.

Right in the centre point of the proposed development, Rivendell Farm, currently one of the most pristine farms in the area, would be surrounded by turbines in close proximity on all three sides. The mountain view from the homestead across the valley would be replaced by four turbines, and three more would be in close proximity to the side of the house, near the property boundary at a distance of a few hundred metres.

Negative effects … disturbing catchment drainage

The impact of the access road along the watershed is also called into question as Rivendell Fish Hatchery depends on the current undisturbed and pristine nature of the catchment for its clean water supply. Run-off from roads is notorious for its negative effects on disturbing catchment drainage. The catchment that comprises the Rivendell valley gives rise to the Oldenburgia Stream, one of the main feeder streams for the Howison’s Poort reservoir that supplies Grahamstown, and also supplies water to the Brackendale valley. The geology is one of fissured quartzite, which extends through to the spring on the Port Alfred road. Blasting for road and foundation construction may have unforeseen consequences on these feeder springs.

The road approach area to the project comprises around 14 homesteads and cottages, most of which are occupied by people who choose not to live in town, preferring the peace and beauty of a pristine natural environment. Most of these people commute daily into town. The interruptions to this way of life with heavy machinery daily blocking the steep access road, blasting of foundations, increased security risks, general construction noise and disturbance, and decreased land values are of concern.

There are alternative sites

The project extension would arouse much criticism even if there were no alternative sites. However, there are alternative sites. The current Waainek Wind Farm has potential for expansion with a readiness to accommodate turbines on private land by several nearby landowners. The site falls outside that considered to be of high aesthetic or conservation value, and more importantly the infrastructure in terms of access roads, cables, site office and concrete construction works are all in place.

On the opposite side of Grahamstown, another proposed wind-farm project along Botha’s ridge could simply have the extra nine turbines added, rather than desecrate yet another mountain, in our one-and-only wild area. Those individuals and organisations in Grahamstown who are concerned about the defiling of yet another of our natural treasures are urged to oppose this project with all means possible.

More info: www.cesnet.co.za/waaihoek.html

The author is the owner of Rivendell Farm