By Nerissa Card
Nottingham Road. The heart of the KZN Midlands and gateway to the Drakensberg. An area that attracts tourists from all over the country, the world. And those who choose to live quietly. The area is beautiful, isn’t it?
Sadly, if you head just out of central Nottingham Road towards Rosetta, this is not the case, thanks to the emergence of two “temporary” timber mills, one on the right, the other on the left, both next to a wetland.
These mills have raised the ire of residents and business owners in the area. Timber scraps and sawdust are finding their way into the vleis; the people working for the mills are living in wooden shacks, with little in terms of water and sanitation, a major concern at the best of times, even more so in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
And then there are the mountains of timber, a serious fire hazard. The mills are within a kilometre of two petrol stations, one of which has gas reserves, and an informal settlement that recently suffered a devastating blaze that left one person dead and many homeless.
Contacted for comment about the mills, spokesperson for the Nottingham Road Land Owners’ Association (NRLA) Andrew Bates said: “We have noted that the land on the left side of the road travelling towards Rosetta is zoned residential, meaning the mill there is illegal. We have notified the municipality, which is meant to be visiting the area to notify them that they have to close down. The mill on the other side of the road is on commercial land, so it is allowed to be used.”
However, what isn’t allowed, according to residents, is sawdust and offcuts from the mills being dumped into a wetland.
Whether the Umngeni municipality acts against the “illegal” mill remains to be seen, as “we have been trying to get the municipality to act on a number of things for up to 12 years now, but nothing gets done”, said Bates.
The Meander Chronicle was informed that the timber emanated from two farms in the area, so we contacted the owners about the following issues:
1 As members of a close-knit community, living in an area that is a major tourist attraction, why was no sensitivity shown to others in the community and the timber not milled on your properties?
2 There are serious concerns about the mills being adjacent to a sensitive wetlands area, about noise and environmental pollution, with the community interested in what plans you have to become involved in cleaning up the area when the milling is complete.
3 Then there is the issue of fire. The piles of timber are a major hazard, which, considering they are near two petrol stations, could be more deadly than any fire the area has seen in the past.
4 When will the milling end and the mills be shut down?
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At the weekend, we received this response from one of the owners, Peter Greene: “I sold a block of timber to a contractor, who was, at the time, based on a farm further out on the Lotheni Road. During the course of the contract he relocated his mill to a property adjoining the railway line in the village. The felling is nearly complete and he should be off my property by the end of next week.
“I can’t be held responsible for what happens to the timber once it leaves my property and the contractor would need to adhere to regulations, whether they be health and safely, labour or environmental, in the place where he is milling. It is not my job or place as a producer to be policing that.
“Having said that, I am an active member of our village community, so, wearing my community hat, I am an active member of the NRLA and have been for many years, and also contribute monthly to the Notties Refreshed initiative that we established to keep our village clean and attractive – this is unlike others who fail to contribute or engage, yet expect the village to be kept in an attractive state.
“The NRLA has been engaging on the matter. My understanding is that the first site on the railway side of the R103 is a commercial site and that this activity is legal, as long as environmental regulations are being adhered to. The new site across the road is, I believe, a residential property and therefore this operation is illegal and needs to be shut down. The NRLA has engaged with the municipality and environmental affairs, and I believe environmental affairs were doing a site visit last Friday (August 28).
“In short I believe the new operation is illegal and will be shut down as a matter of course and that if the railway-side operation is deemed to be legal we will have to monitor the site and stay engaged with the owner of the property to ensure that no environmental legislation is being transgressed, once there is clarity from the department of environmental affairs.
“There has been engagement with the landowner and I believe there has, over the past week, been a clean-up on the site as a result of this. Even though the contractor will cease to take timber from me in the next week, it is likely that he will source other timber from a supplier or multiple suppliers in the area and we will have to keep monitoring the situation and bring them to book if there are transgressions.”
As far as the mill on the commercial property is concerned, we contacted Edwin Hamann, who manages it and asked when milling would cease, what would be done about cleaning up the vlei, and what was going to happen to the piles of timber.
We received the following response: “We are in the process of cleaning the vlei, which will be done by Friday, 4 September 2020, weather permitting.
Imraan Hoosen, the owner of the land on which the “illegal” mill is operating, told The Meander Chronicle at a meeting on the site on Tuesday that the land was zoned agricultural and that if the operation was illegal it was up to the municipality to close it down.
Hoosen said if this happened, he had the option of moving it to a commercial property he owns opposite The Junction complex.
Asked why this hadn’t been done in the first place, he said it was “not advisable” and that there would be an “outcry”. “We decided this was the only suitable place because then all saw mills are in one area.
“We are doing everything to keep our community clean. We are going to bag the sawdust and move it every two weeks or so.” The timber off-cuts will be burnt, with permission from the local fire association.
Comment from the municipality was as follows: “The municipality conducted an environmental assessment at the said mills through our Economic Development and Planning Department.”
Attempts to get more information were unsuccessful, but we will update this article when we learn more.
However, according to an email from the NRLA, received on Tuesday, the municipality’s environmental department undertook an inspection of the “legal” sawmill on August 27.
“They will be meeting with the KZN Department of Environmental Affairs to discuss the outcome of the inspection – disposal of waste in a wetland area and establishment of a pit latrine in the wetland area,” said the association.
Regarding Hoosen’s mill, the municipality’s town planning department and building inspectorate “will be visiting the site (Wednesday or Thursday this week) and will review activities relative to the SPLUMA bylaws (ie land use versus zoning), as well as structures established relative to approved plans and the building codes. The above departments will also inspect the other sawmill site.”
A number of questions remain unanswered, but we hope our investigation of this matter sheds some light for the area’s residents and business owners.