The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf) and a local construction consortium, comprising Hillary, Liviero and Eigenbau (HLE), on Tuesday signed a R257-million contract to realign and build roads at the De Hoop dam, paving the way for the department to step up its construction programme.

Deputy director-general for national water resources infrastructure Cornelius Ruiters said that the realignment of a 20-km long provincial road in the area and the construction of five access roads to provide access to the dam wall and adjacent properties were prerequisites for the construction of De Hoop.

The HLE consortium was expected to complete the realignment and building of new access roads by April 2009.

And, while some construction activities had already started on site, Ruiters said that construction on the dam wall was expected to start by the end of this year, or early next year.

Construction on the dam, which was designed to alleviate the water scarcity experienced by communities and mining companies around the Steelpoort area, had been delayed by months owing to concerns about the impact of the dam on the Olifants river basin.

Last October, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk issued a revised record of decision, which had set out various environmental conditions to which the project team had to adhere.

The project remained on schedule to be completed by 2010Ruiters reported that the department had secured approvals for all the “critical” environmental management plans and that the project remained on schedule to be completed by 2010.

To date, plant relocations in priority areas had been undertaken and flora had been moved to the National Botanical Gardens, in Pretoria; a total of 59 graves been moved from the priority area; and archaeologists had been moved to the site where construction had started.

Dwaf reported that a significant archaeological find had been made close to the planned works area and that it had been marked as a “no-go area” until the archaeologists had concluded their preliminary work on the site.