The Integrated Environmental Management Plan (IEMP) for Phase 1 of the Square Kilometre Array mid-frequency array (SKA1_MID) was gazetted by Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane on Friday, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (Sarao) announced on Monday. The SKA is an international project to construct the world’s biggest radio telescope array and South Africa will host its mid-frequency component, with the low-frequency component being hosted by Australia.
This is the first IEMP to be adopted at the national level in South Africa. It is required under the National Environmental Management Act and sets out a consolidated plan which covers environmental monitoring and control actions, long-term research programmes monitoring the SKA site in the Karoo region, as well as the minimum construction and operation requirements for the SKA1_MID.
“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,” highlighted Sarao MD Dr Rob Adam. “It follows soon after the signing of the SKA Convention (and the forming of the intergovernmental Organisation) and one month after the approval of the detailed design of the infrastructure and power for the SKA in South Africa.”
The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was undertaken by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, under the guidance of a Special Advisory Committee. This committee included representatives of relevant government departments and agencies. There were also consultations with important sectors such as civil aviation, defence and conservation agencies, as well as with provincial and local governments.
The SEA was conducted over a period of three years. The area studied was subdivided into the SEA Core Study Area, of 38 land parcels amounting to some 131 200 ha; and the SEA Spiral Arm Study Area, comprising 131 land parcels, encompassing about 497 000 ha. The total land area covered by the SEA came to about 628 200 ha, spread across four local municipalities – Kareeberg, Hantam, Siyatemba and Karoo-Hoogland.
The SKA and its South African precursor MeerKAT radio telescope projects are grouped together as one of 18 strategic integrated projects under the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee. This committee was set up to accelerate the development of the country’s social and economic infrastructure.