/ 6 June 2008

A highway among trees and seedlings

Merit award — Companies and organisations with the most improved environmental practice: Sanral

The N2 highway between Tsitsikamma and Witelsbos on the Garden Route crosses one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Tourists stream in to see its ancient indigenous forests, seascapes and to visit the Tsitsikamma National Park, Otter Trail and Bloukrans bridge.

So it was appropriate that the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) decided to save a giant Outeniqua yellowwood tree during major road construction on the highway.

The company’s environmental manager, Mpati Makoa, said a bridge was being built near the tree to provide a crossing for animals and people. And a safe route was established around the tree for drivers. This was a joint decision taken by Sanral, South African National Parks, the department of environmental affairs and tourism, the department of water affairs and forestry, community members and local experts.

“If you look at the value attached to that decision, saving the tree is a highlight of the construction of the road in that area,” said Makoa. “Sanral has gone to great lengths to retain the diversity of species, to the extent of manually collecting seeds for fynbos regeneration.”

Indigenous plants were relocated during the road upgrade. This inspired a Sanral employee to start a nursery of indigenous plants that could be used in post-construction rehabilitation.

Makoa said the employee got the idea for the nursery after attending an environmental awareness and training course run by the company, during which the planning and design of roads, as well as routine road maintenance, were shown and explained to the staff.

The company placed great importance on rehabilitation and the job was not signed off until Sanral and the relevant authorities were fully satisfied.

The company also took steps to counter the possible effect of roadwork on the environment during construction. Challenges ranged from flooding and veld fires to safety considerations and traffic accommodation.

“One of the biggest challenges was having to work in a relatively narrow space with large construction vehicles, due to the restrictions posed by the sensitivity of the indigenous forest,” she said.

Sanral committed itself to partnering with government authorities, engineers, contractors, local clubs and residents along the route. Road stability was essential to protect the indigenous forest where the big yellowwood tree has stood for decades.

“We have long recognised that infrastructure projects such as road building are generally associated with negative environmental impacts. We therefore put measures in place not only to rehabilitate, but also to support environmental preservation,” Makoa said.

Sanral entered the project into the Greening the Future category for not-for-profit organisations. The judges chose to move it into the category for companies and organisations with the “most improved” environmental practice.

They praised the environmental sensitivity and vision used by the company to build the coastal highway. “Sanral is doing a great job and we hope it uses a similar approach when it comes to the proposed road along the Wild Coast,” the judges said.