Strategic Environmental Assessment and the Integrated Environmental Management Plan for the SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array

Strategic Environmental Assessment for the SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array

Introduction and background

The MeerKAT and the SKA projects are one of the 18 Strategic Integrated Projects of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee, as part of the National Development Plan. The National Development Plan is intended to transform the economic landscape in the country, create a significant number of new jobs, strengthen the delivery of basic services and support the integration of African economies.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has committed to contribute to the implementation of the National Development Plan by undertaking Strategic Environmental Assessments, to integrate the regulatory environmental requirements for the Strategic Integrated Projects, while safeguarding the environment.

In 2015, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was appointed to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment for the SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array, which is to be constructed in the Karoo Region of South Africa.

What is a Strategic Environmental Assessment?

As defined by Sadler and Verheem (1996), the a Strategic Environmental Assessment is a systematic process for evaluating the environmental consequences of proposed policy, plan or programme initiatives, in order to ensure they are fully included and appropriately addressed at the earliest appropriate stage of decision making on par with economic and social considerations.

In South Africa, Strategic Environmental Assessments are undertaken to evaluate the opportunities and constraints of large scale strategic developments at the regional and national scales.

SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array Strategic Environmental Assessment Study Area

The Strategic Environmental Assessment covered an area of approximately 628,200 hectares of land in the Karoo, which was divided into two sub-areas: The “SEA Core Study Area” (outlined in red on the map below), which consists of 38 land parcels, and covers an area of approximately 131 200 hectares; and the “SEA Spiral Arm Study Area” (outlined in blue on the map), which includes 131 land parcels, and covers an area of approximately 497,000 hectares.

The overall study area falls within four local municipalities; the Kareeberg Local Municipality, the Hantam Local Municipality, the Siyatemba Local Municipality and the Karoo-Hoogland Local Municipality. The largest towns surrounding the study area are Carnarvon, Williston, Van Wyksvlei and Brandvlei.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment process, which took three years to complete, was guided by a Special Advisory Committee, which included key government departments and state agencies. In addition, provincial and local government consultations were undertaken to further inform local and provincial authorities. Consultations with other key stakeholders from conservation agencies and representatives from other key sectors (e.g. Civil Aviation, Defence, Heritage Resources) also took place, to share information and obtain inputs and expert advice on specific issues/technical aspects of the Strategic Environmental Assessment.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment assessed the potential impacts that the proposed activities for the construction and operation of the SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array may have on local agriculture, heritage (including archaeology, palaeontology, cultural heritage and visual/landscape aspects), terrestrial ecology and biodiversity, including; avifauna, aquatic ecosystems, as well as socio-economic aspects.

Integrated Environmental Management Plan for the SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array

The Integrated Environmental Management Plan is the outcome of the Strategic Environmental Assessment.

The Integrated Environmental Management Plan provides a consolidated management plan including the minimum requirements for the construction and operation phases of the SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array, including the environmental principles to be adopted, the environmental monitoring and control activities, as well as the long-term research monitoring programmes to be implemented on the SKA site in the Karoo.

The National Research Foundation and the International SKA Organisation are legally required to comply with Chapter 2, and the management outcomes of Chapter 5, of the Integrated Environmental Management Plan.

The IEMP supersedes the MeerKAT Environmental authorisations obtained for the KAT 7 MeerKAT EIAs.

Reports

The SKA Phase 1 Mid-Frequency Array Strategic Environmental Assessment and Integrated Environmental Management Plan

SEA Report and Specialist Reports

KAT-7 and MeerKAT EIA Reports