Irish Water may be compelled to take its controversial Moville waste water treatment plant project back to the drawing board following a ruling by An Bord Pleanála the utility must carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment on the proposed scheme.
Irish Water submitted an application to build a sewage treatment plant at Carnagarve, Moville, including sewage effluent discharge into Lough Foyle adjacent to Glenburnie beaches.
The utility applied to An Bord Pleanála for a screening determination on the project saying the development "is unlikely to give rise to significant effects on the environment".
Irish Water says the project at Carnagarve is aimed at "ending the unacceptable practice of discharging raw sewerage into the Bredagh and Lough Foyle."
However, some local people are opposed to the location of the proposed plant believing it will cause environmental damage in the Foyle and have campaigned for years to have the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) located outside the Lough.
An Bord Plenála has ruled an environmental impact assessment must be carried out due to the ecological sensitivity of the environment, including the commercial shellfish resources, bathing waters and biodiversity. The board concluded the treatment plant may have a significant effect on Lough Foyle Special Protection Area, North Inishowen Coast Special Area of Conservation and River Roe and Tributaries Special Area of Conservation.
In its September 28 decision, An Bord Pleanála said: “It is considered that the potential for significant adverse effects on the environment arising from the proposed Moville Sewerage Scheme cannot be ruled out and accordingly, that the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report is required.”
Local environmental activist, Enda Craig, described An Bord Pleanála's decision as “welcome news”.
Mr Craig added: “An Bord Pleanála's decision is welcome news and vindication for the Moville Environmental Group, Community For A Clean Estuary (CFCE) who fought tooth and nail this past thirty years stating the legislation being applied by Donegal County Council and Irish Water was defective.
“Our warning, repeated many times, was ignored by Donegal County Council, by Irish Water, by the EPA and also by the High Court of Ireland.
“Our statement regarding the defective legislation was finally accepted in 2016 by the European Commission in Brussels which stated: 'I would like to clarify that Article 2(1) applies to cases in which the relevant authorities have concluded that there is a significant impact on the environment, following a screening process. I would like to reiterate that in our view the EIA Directive applies in a case such as Moville and that an EIA screening process was required and will be required before any future decision could be taken under new legislation. If a future screening process determines that there would be significant impact on the environment, then indeed paragraph 76 of the judgment would be relevant.'
“Had CFCE not campaigned against the initial proposal then the beautiful beaches and bathing waters between Moville and Greencastle would have been decimated in the same way that happened to Ladies Bay in Buncrana, where the people there allowed a similar type plant and discharge to be built and operated in 1990. It is now under proposal for a major upgrade having caused substantial environmental degradation from its inception,” said Enda Craig.
Mr Craig said one of the conditions laid down by An Bord Pleanála was of the “utmost importance”.
He added: “An Bord Pleanála stated: 'Having regards to the ecological sensitivity of the receiving environment, including the commercial shellfish resources, bathing waters and biodiversity.'
“This requirement will give local fishermen on Lough Foyle the opportunity to make submissions regarding concerns they may have in relation to fish stocks and shellfish
“The reality of so-called treated sewage effluent is something else, which is not generally understood. The level of 'treatment ' at the plant will be dependant on the dilution and assimilation properties in the receiving waters found at the discharge point of the pipe.
“People tend to think that all of the treatment takes place at the plant, which, in this case, is completely wrong. Most of the treatment will be based on the notion of 'marine treatment' and we all know what that means. It is the reason there is an exclusion zone in the vicinity of the discharge to allow the ' treated ' effluent to reduce in content and intensity. The fishermen have every right to be concerned,” said Enda Craig.
According to Enda Craig, a local fisherman has outlined the potential harm that the proposed sewage discharge could cause to the ecosystem and fish stocks in the vicinity of the proposed discharge point at Carnagarve.
He said: “The first map highlights the important ecosystem and marine life that is currently on site at the point where they intend to discharge the sewage effluent.
“Also of great interest will be the pollution map which was generated by the consultants in relation to the anticipated dispersal of raw untreated sewage along the coastline between Redcastle and Kinnego Bay, in the event of an emergency breakdown or unforeseen discharge into Lough Foyle.
“This is Irish Water's their own map, which was hidden from the public but quite clearly shows the dispersal of raw sewage hugging the coastline, polluting the water and beaches as it goes. This omission was not explained satisfactorily to CFCE and that, as it stands, is a disgraceful example of withholding important and relevant information.
“Why would an organisation go to the expense and trouble of compiling a complicated dispersal map if, as it stated, there would never be any occasion for its use or its findings,” said Enda Craig.
Mr Craig said the map in question came to light when it was discovered by Oceanographer Mr Mike Quinnell from Singapore, who was carrying out research for CFCE.
He said: “The Discovery of this map and the fact that it was hidden caused a serious breach of trust in relation to what now, if anything, we can believe. This breakdown of trust continues to the present day since more and more concerns are coming to light and we are not getting satisfactory answers.
“This will not be allowed to happen this time. All potential adverse effects on the effluent receiving waters will have to be outlined in truthful detail to allow the local community to see and weigh the consequences of the proposal.
“Numerous highly regarded experts have stated that this plant and pipe should not, under any circumstances, be located inside the environs of the Foyle estuary.
“Karin Dubsky, BA, MSc Coastal Ecologist (Lecturer in Trinity College Dublin) said: 'The discharge for the planned treatment plant should be relocated to ensure it is also suitable from a biodiversity point of view.' Dr Mike Quinnell, Oceanographer, Singapore said: 'The current model was not tuned to match local conditions, and the effluent dispersion model used the untuned current model. It is my opinion that all results of the effluent dispersion model are invalid.'” said Enda Craig.
Professor Ronnie Russell, Microbiologist TCD; EU Commission; Peter Sweetman Expert on EU Environmental Legislation; Members of Donegal County Council; various TDs, MEPs and local doctors have also come out against the proposed location of Moville WWTP, Mr Craig said.
Enda Craig said Irish Water should now follow the Precautionary Principle regarding a WWTP for Moville.
He said: “Measures which prevent environmental damage from the start are preferred over measures to restore an already damaged environment.
“This will be a long term project and it must be properly planned and engineered from the outset. That means especially having due regard to the proper European laws and regulations. That is something that Irish Water did not adhere to on the previous occasion. Coming to Moville with glossy pamphlets, spin and propaganda will not suffice.
“The open sea is readily accessible north of Greencastle. With proper plant design and suitable treatment the discharge can be accommodated by a long sea-outfall with a guarantee of minimal potential environmental damage to the receiving waters, bathing beaches and shoreline walks.
“The proper decision was made by local politicians in 1990, and which still stands, when it was agreed by all to locate this plant and pipe north of Greencastle. The right plant in the right place.”
Inish Times requested a response from Irish Water regarding An An Bord Pleanála's decision on the proposed Moville WWTP. However, at the time of going to press, no comment was forthcoming.
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