Square Kilometre Array milestone reached in South Africa with adoption of environmental management plan
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has welcomed the adoption of the Integrated Environmental Management Plan (IEMP) for phase one of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in South Africa. The IEMP was gazetted on Friday 22 March.
"The Department is very pleased with the conclusion of this process that has granted the environmental licence for the construction of the SKA Phase 1 to proceed in the Northern Cape," said the DST's Acting Chief Director for Astronomy, Takalani Nemaungani.
The process, which was led by the Department of Environmental Affairs with the support of the DST and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, involved comprehensive consultation with communities from the towns surrounding the SKA site in the Northern Cape.
"I would like to thank these communities and the municipalities, as well as the stakeholders in various sectors affected by the project, for actively participating in the meetings and workshop held by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who served as the facilitators," said Mr Nemaungani.
The IEMP covers the environmental principles to be followed in the construction and operation of SKA Phase 1, the environmental monitoring and control activities to be undertaken, as well as the long-term research monitoring programmes to be implemented at the SKA site. This is the first time that an environmental instrument of this kind has been adopted at national level in South Africa.
"The development of the IEMP for the first phase of the SKA, and the gazetting of its adoption by Minister Mokonyane, is yet another milestone towards the realisation of the SKA mid-frequency array in South Africa," said Dr Rob Adam, Managing Director of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.
"It follows just three days after the signing of the SKA Convention, and one month after the approval of the detailed design of the infrastructure and power for the SKA in South Africa."
The CSIR, an entity of the DST, was appointed to undertake the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for the SKA Phase 1. The study, which took three years to complete, covered an area of approximately 628 200 hectares in the Karoo, falling within the Kareeberg, Hantam, Siyatemba and Karoo-Hoogland local municipalities. The largest towns surrounding the study area are Carnarvon, Williston, Vanwyksvlei and Brandvlei.
The SEA process was guided by a special advisory committee which included key government departments and state agencies. Additional consultations were held with local and provincial authorities, as well as consultations with conservation agencies and representatives from other key sectors (e.g. civil aviation, defence and heritage resources), to share information and gather inputs and advice on specific/technical aspects.
The study assessed the impacts that the construction and operation of SKA Phase 1 might have on local agriculture, heritage (including archaeology, paleontology, cultural heritage and the visual landscape), terrestrial ecology and biodiversity, as well as local socio-economic aspects.
Further aspects of sensitivity in terms of aviation, defence, telecommunications, weather services, mining, water use, waste management, noise and traffic effects were also investigated in consultation with the relevant authorities and stakeholders.
The specialist reports were reviewed by independent experts, who provided input and contributed to improving the scoping level, and the specialist findings and recommendations were included in the IEMP.
The National Research Foundation, through its national facility, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, and the International SKA Organisation, will now be required to comply with the conditions contained in the Government Gazette notice.