Safety concerns setback for euro 1bn gas pipe project

26th Jun 2002 Story:

THE controversial 1bn euro Corrib gas pipeline project off Mayo has suffered a serious setback with a Bord Pleanala warning that it would pose an "unacceptable" risk to public safety.

The planning board told the developers it believed the largest infrastructural project in the west would pose an unacceptable risk to people living near the proposed onshore terminal.

There was also an unacceptable risk to public safety and of pollution arising from a landslide involving tonnes of waste peat due to be excavated to make way for the buildings and pipeline at Bellinaboy Bridge, near Belmullet.

"The board is not satisfied the proposed development would not give rise to an unacceptable risk to members of the public due to the proximity of the terminal site to residential properties and areas of public use," Bord Pleanala said.

It warned there was a likelihood on instability in containment embankments which would be resting on peat. These would sink - bringing a risk of pollution, as well as a "peat slide" - exposing the public to "unacceptable risk."

In a sensational twist the board, which is considering the findings of a public inquiry and appeal, has written to developers Enterprise Energy expressing serious concern over the safety risk to local homes from the proposed terminal. It has asked the developers to respond.

It said its concern about unacceptable risk to the public because of the proximity of homes to the proposed terminal was made after considering submissions at the oral hearing by the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, and EU directives.

Ballinaboy-Lenamore Concerned Citizens Group had told the board the plant would be a constant danger to locals. Fishing and environmental groups have also voiced concerns at the hearing.

The board told developers in a letter it had not been shown that the remote siting of an onshore terminal 8km inland was the best alternative. It then asked them to provide comparisons between a land-based terminal and one in shallow water. It also ordered them to send the board an assessment of development of a different onshore terminal in the Mayo area, with particular reference to both the Killala/Ballina or Westport-Castlebar areas.

In addition, the development would have "a significant environmental cost in the area" because it would be visually intrusive.

As a result of the safety queries to the company, the board is not going to decide on the future of the proposal for another three months, even though a decision was expected this week.

Enterprise Energy Ireland has already agreed to sell €463m of the gas to Bord Gais and work has already begun at the site in connection with construction of the pipeline. The go-ahead for the development has been given by the last Marine and Natural Resources Minister, Frank Fahey, although the planning permission granted by Mayo County Council was appealed to Bord Pleanala.

Crucially, if the board is not fully satisfied with the responses from Enterprise Energy to its raft of safety concerns it can refuse planning permission, and there can be no appeal.

A report carried out by the Marine Licence Vetting Committee on behalf of the minister has already warned the proposal poses a risk to fishing vessels and their gear, as some of the 90km pipeline was not buried.

The committee also warned of the risk to human health and marine organisms from excessive discharges of toxic heavy metals from the Broadhaven Bay terminal. It called for a 500-metre safety exclusion zone round the pipe to cut the risks for trawlers.

It also expresses concern at a failure of the treatment process, resulting in emissions of toxic contaminants into the bay. Treated effluent would still retain toxic heavy metals, including mercury, cadmium and chromium.

Treacy Hogan, Environment Correspondent

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