RO plant a white elephant?

UNCERTAINTY still surrounds the state of Amatola Water’s bulk water project for Ndlambe and whether there is sufficient water for the next phase of 780 houses to be built at Thornhill.

When Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe visited Port Alfred in January, Ndlambe’s deputy director of community protection services Fanie Fouche did a presentation for the municipality at a public meeting in which he said the reverse osmosis (RO) plant that has been built will only deal with quality of water, not provide additional water.

It was a stunning revelation for residents who expected the point of the bulk water project was to provide additional water – a requirement for additional housing to be built.

However, in response to concerns raised by the EFF in last week’s Talk of the Town, the municipality claimed that sufficient bulk water is in place for additional houses to be built at Thornhill, and justified applying for water use licences.

Following Fouche’s admission in January, a source told TotT the R200-million RO plant would not be working at all, as the contractors had run out of money, and it had become a “white elephant” project.

When TotT visited the site of the RO plant and 16ML reservoir north of the Port Alfred landfill site last week the structures appeared to be complete, but there was no activity on site. No machinery was running, and earthworks for pipes to the reservoir were still unfinished.

TotT asked municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa what the state of the project was and if there was any water in the reservoir.

Mbolekwa said questions about the RO plant and reservoir had to be directed to Amatola Water, which has never responded to any of TotT’s queries, starting from a series of investigative articles on the bulk water project in 2016.

Mbolekwa did however say that Amatola Water was still busy with the implantation of “quick wins” in Ndlambe.

As for the housing project – a joint initiative between Absa Property Development, Ndlambe Local Municipality and the Department of Human Settlements – Mbolekwa said although 5 000 new houses were initially planned for Thornhill, only 508 cold be built in phase 1 due to insufficient bulk water, and preliminary engineering designs concluded that bulk infrastructure could only accommodate 780 houses in phase 2.

The “link infrastructure” required for phase 2 is:

  • a 2.62ML, 25m high elevated concrete tank;
  • a pump station at the existing 16ML reservoir;
  • a pumping main (4km long, 500mm diameter) from the 16ML reservoir site to the proposed elevated tank;
  • a temporary sewer pump station and a rising main (200mm diameter).

“The municipality does not have sufficient water, if there was sufficient water the project in Thornhill would not be in phases – instead all 5 000 houses as planned for Thornhill development would have been built in a single phase,” Mbolekwa said. “Currently the second phase of the project is in EIA stage. Once the EIA is concluded then the construction of the second phase will commence.”

“The issue of bulk infrastructure is a challenge for the municipality, which we have been attending to by making applications for funding to different sectors,” he said.

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