Apocalypse Kromby Bartlett / 14.07.2011
“Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such nature films as Earwigs: Eww! and Man vs. Nature: The Road to Victory.”
Phil Hartman’s voice in The Simpsons bellows in the bowels of my brain – a space reserved for toilet humour and 90s TV one-liners. I’m standing in front of what remains of the bridge on the only road into St Francis Bay, witnessing a shitstorm.
Huh? Yes people. The bridge into St Francis has gone bye-bye and there is no way in or out of this coastal paradise/hell. A manmade flood has swept it all away. But before Bartlett takes you to the bridge, let me lay down the vocals on this track.
Song Title: St Francis.
It’s so Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Moody place names, fridge poetry lyricism, nasal falsetto delivery and you’ll soon catch my drift. Site of a “ten-million-to-one” wave immortalized in the surf doccie ‘The Endless Summer’. Home of Bruce’s Beauties. A town built out of one man’s vision (and money) to slap a bunch of white-walled, thatch-roofed houses along the shore, making it look resplendent in its understated wealth. Like pearly-white, capped teeth. That man: Leighton Hulett. Not to be confused with Lleyton Hewitt – he was that emo Aussie tennis player. Anyway…
Leighton Hulett of Hulett’s Sugar. Him and his wife bought 3km of St Francis coastline back in 1954 for 1750 pounds sterling. Their pals soon wanted in, and so developed Cape St Francis – all under the Hulett architectural design dictate of ‘It must be white – like my sugar.’ The rest is the stuff of legend. The legend that stacks up to tourist brochure drivel, the kind of shit that Vaalies looking for a second holiday home lap us a great investment.
Opening Verse: Man versus Nature
Ingredients for your holiday town/recipe for disaster: millionaire property developers, builders looking for a lifestyle that allows them to throw down their tools when Bruce’s is cranking, and bored housewive property agents as the lube between them and your outta town willing buyer/willing seller. Soon the local golf course that Max Hulett built isn’t enough, so Jack Nicklaus, ‘The Golden Bear’, is brought in to design a links course.
A links course is supposed to be the land that borders the sea, where cattle graze. But with The Golden Bear on the job, why let the truth stand in the way of legend? Just build the golf course on the sand dunes on the other side of town and brand it so. The St Francis Links.
Other, crazier shit’s going down too, like the rapidly disappearing beach and the planned nuke site at nearby Thyspunt. But those are requiems of nature for another time. You don’t need to be an environmentalist to know that between building of the houses and the building of the gold course, the sand that used to travel 18km from the sand dunes in Oyster Bay to the main beach just isn’t there anymore. Witness the same drama in Llandudno and Hout Bay, where sand dunes lost out to property development. Man taken becomes god forsaken. Sing the chorus!
Second Verse: The Buildup (featuring Alastair, an Environmental Impact Assessor, on guest vocals)
“St Francis Links golf course is situated on property which, after the clearing of alien bush, is extremely waterlogged. There is already lots of water, due to the aquifer (an aquifer is an underground water table, with this particular aquifer lying beneath ‘Sand River’, the normally dry riverbed which runs past the golf course, under the bridge on the way into town, and into the St Francis Canals, where the town’s edge meets the Kromme River). One alien bush will take 1200L out of the ground, so with them gone there’s suddenly a lot more water.
After a period of heavy rain – 520mm since May – there is a large, surface run-off, and behind the golf course is a huge catchment area straddled by two dune ridges. That catchment area feeds the main dam for the golf course – a 50 mega-litre (mega = million) irrigation dam. When it rains hard and both the dam and the catchment area are full – both sitting above the town – that’s when you get trouble.
In 2006 and 2007 there were floods and people lost their homes, and the golf course took the rap. Channels were then built at right angles to the dam, so that floodwater could be fed off, away from the village, next time around. The water would be fed off into the surrounding dunes, with an estimated capacity of 850 mega-litres.
In 2011 we’ve had a Western Cape winter, with half a metre of rain in ten weeks. The golf course closed their back sleuce gate, and plan B – meant for emergencies – was soon underway. The problem being that the golf course have no people who monitor this sort of thing, and the dunes soon filled up to capacity. It’s like they just forgot about it. And once you allow that amount of water to continue being channeled into the dunes you have no control over it. It’s up to Mother Nature.
These dunes were formed by wind and were not designed to hold so much water. They have been placed under massive amounts of undue stress. So what soon started happening is that the dunes started to ‘shear’, with massive sections of the face of the dune falling into the water below. Water soon started permeating the dunes from below.
To make matters even worse, there are two natural rivers with water that has been barreling into this area. It’s a huge safety risk. So water management is absolutely critical. The golf course has irrigation pumps that can control the dam level, releasing the water under the bridge and into the wetland. The channel could have also been controlled better, as well as the level of the dam.”
Third Verse: Take Me to the Bridge
The skinny is that Mike Wylie, the non-executive Chairman of WBHO (who built half the town and own the golf course) flew in with his chopper and team of experts to try and MacGyver the situation. Their plan was to quarantine sections of the sand dunes that are by now brimming, to their meniscus, and then drill through the base of each sand dune and let water through that way.
Maybe if these cats had more than a JLB and some hardhats their plan would’ve worked. Big maybe. The smart money says that by now they’re on the horn with their insurers and the word from the top is to just try and minimize the damage.
4pm on Thursday the 7th of July and all hell breaks loose. What’s meant to be a controlled flood – with the water being diverted under the only road into town and into the wetlands – becomes a flashflood that wipes out the bridge, ruins a nature reserve and dumps a bunch of sand into the Kromme River, making it inaccessible by sea. So sing the chorus, bitch and moan. We all know how it goes. We just don’t know how it ends yet.
Fourth Verse: Bathing in the Aftermath.
So I’m standing there, on the one road into town, knee-deep in water, watching this all. Families desperately trying to connect. The maid is at home with the kids, fathers are returning home from work. Mothers are in distress. Cars are parked furiously. 2012 is around the corner.
The nice thing about a town that is only accessible by one road is that the crime rate remains low. The cops can park off and breathalyse in one spot, and if the heat does get turned up they can just chase the criminals into Humansdorp and radio ahead for backup. The not so nice thing about having only one road into town is that now there is no road. St Francis Bay is an island. All of which ought to make the wave at Bruce’s a lot less crowded.