The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (Sarao) has announced that the Integrated Environmental Management Plan (IEMP) for Phase 1 of the Square Kilometre Array midfrequency array (SKA1_MID) was gazetted recently by Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.
The SKA is an international project to construct the world’s biggest radio telescope array and South Africa will host its midfrequency component, with the lowfrequency component being hosted by Australia.
This is the first IEMP to be adopted at national level in South Africa. It is required under the National Environmental Management Act and sets out a consolidated plan that covers environmental monitoring and control actions, and 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 midfrequency 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. “The SEA assessed the potential impacts that the proposed activities for the construction and operation of the SKA1_MID may have on local agriculture, heritage (including archaeology, palaeontology, cultural heritage and visual/landscape aspects), terrestrial ecology and biodiversity, including avifauna and aquatic ecosystems, as well as socioeconomic aspects,” stated Sarao in its statement.
The special advisory 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. “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,” assured Sarao.
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 was some 628 200 ha, spread across four local municipalities – Kareeberg, Hantam, Siyatemba and Karoo-Hoogland. The largest towns around the SEA areas are Brandvlei, Carnarvon, Van Wyksvlei and Williston.
The strategic assessment programme included specialist reports, which were reviewed by independent experts (who also contributed to improving the process). These reports resulted in specialist findings and recommendations.
The SKA project and its South African 64-dish precursor, the MeerKAT radio telescope project (designed, set up and operated in the Karoo by Sarao) 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.
Contracts for the construction for Phase 1 of the SKA will begin to be awarded from late next year. These contracts will have a total value close of €700-million. The intergovernmental treaty – the SKA Convention – which formally established the international body that will oversee the construction and operation of the SKA, the SKA Observatory, was signed last month by (in alphabetical order) Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the UK. India and Sweden plan to sign soon. Further countries may sign in due course.
The SKA Observatory has its head office in the UK.