An oral hearing into plans for a €100 million incinerator in Co Meath was "tainted" and Bord Pleanála may even have compromised a related Supreme Court case, it was alleged at the opening of the hearing into the project yesterday.
Speaking in Drogheda at the start of a Bord Pleanála inquiry into Indaver Ireland's plans for an incinerator with capacity to take 200,000 tonnes of waste per year, appellant Stephen Ward said there was concern that the board may be restricting the evidence brought by opponents of the plan.
He was told by hearing inspector Mary Cunneen that there would be no restriction on evidence produced.
Mr Ward referred specifically to a letter from the board issued on February 26th last, in which appellants were advised it would be helpful if their testimony did not overly concentrate on material already given to the board in respect of a previously approved smaller incinerator with a capacity of 150,000 tonnes.
The letter produced by Mr Ward read: "Finally, as planning permission and a waste licence have already been granted in respect of a similar development at the site [planning reference numbers] it would be helpful to conduct the hearing, were the parties to focus on issues specifically pertaining to the currently proposed development including any material changes in circumstances which have occurred in the interim period."
Mr Ward insisted the letter raised very serious concerns about the bringing of evidence and the format of the inquiry. He said the previously proposed incinerator had not been approved, as a case against it was still with the
Supreme Court. And he suggested the letter "has prejudiced that [Supreme Court] hearing".
He told Ms Cunneen, "you yourself referred to a previous application", which he said was inappropriate as what was before yesterday's hearing was a completely new application, not a variation of a previous one.
"An Bord Pleanála have prejudiced to a certain degree the Supreme Court outcome," he told the inquiry.
In response, Ms Cunneen said that while her "aim is to ask parties to focus on those aspects of the development which differ" from the previously proposed development, she had no intention of restricting or limiting the evidence brought by the parties.
Concern, however, was also expressed by a number of politicians present including the Louth TDs Arthur Morgan of Sinn Féin and Fine Gael environment spokesman Fergus O'Dowd. Both men asked about the site selection process, as the evidence would be the same in both incinerator applications but there would be a difference in site selection, particularly in assessing traffic volumes, for a large facility and that for a smaller facility.
Trevor Sargent told the hearing that the incinerator would undermine the regional waste-management plan for the northeast,
Mr Sargent was one of a number of politicians, including Meath councillor Dominic Hannigan and Louth councillor Gerald Nash, who gave evidence for opponents of the project, No Incineration Alliance and Louth People Against Incineration.
Mr Sargent said an incinerator would undermine the principle of regional self-reliance on waste-management facilities and would ignore the need to reduce levels of waste. "This is understandable as incinerators require more rather than less waste," he said.
He also maintained the proposals put forward by Indaver Ireland for a 200,000-tonne capacity waste-to-energy plant "would become a major greenhouse gas emitter if permission is granted". The plant would damage the marketability of local food "and would destroy any prospect of reaching the ultimate goal of zero waste".
Mr Hannigan said locating an incinerator above a regionally important aquifer would threaten water supplies to centres of population along the east coast. He was "deeply concerned" about a local health authority warning that the aquifer was susceptible to ground-water pollution. In the event of a fire or explosion, he said, the aquifer could be polluted by waste, waste waters or ash.
An assertion from Mr Nash that Meath County Council had not consulted Louth county or Drogheda town councils was rejected by John Gallagher SC
for Meath County Council. Mr Gallagher said his instructions were that written invitations to comment on the incinerator project had been sent to both councils, but no reply had been received from either body.
Earlier, at the start of yesterday's hearings, an application from the No Incineration Alliance and the Meath People Against Incineration to adjourn was deferred by planning inspector Mary Cunneen. Spokesman for Louth People Against Incineration Ollan Herr had asked for the adjournment because a key witness, Prof Vyvyan Howard of the centre of molecular bioscience at the University of Ulster, was unable to attend due to illness. He could be available on April 2nd and 3rd.
Mr Herr also said a further adjournment after April might be required until such a time as the State's implementation plan for the Stockholm Convention on the reduction and possible elimination of dioxins and furans was published.
Ms Cunneen said the application raised many practical issues of the availability of experts for cross-examination and no arrangement had been made to extend the oral hearing beyond this week's current schedule.
There was also the question of whether the Government's proposals for the implementation of the Stockholm Convention would be available in the six-week timeframe for her report to An Bord Pleanála.
In the circumstances she intended to go ahead with the hearing during which Prof Howard's evidence might be read into the record.
In deferring the matter to the board, Ms Cunneen assured Mr Herr it would not close the inquiry until it was satisfied it had all the relevant information it required.
A range of experts for Indaver Ireland told the hearing the plant was designed to comply with Irish, EU and international best practice. Emissions data from the proposed incinerator would be available "in real time" on the internet to demonstrate this compliance and a permanent community liaison group would be set up.
Stephen Hickey of ARC Consultants said the topography of the land meant that, in a line of sight from the top of the tumulus at Dowth, some three metres of the top of the 65-metre incinerator stack should be visible. However, because of the distance of 5.45km and the colouring of the stack, it would be imperceptible.
Mr Hickey added that neither the plant nor the stack would be visible from the archaeological complex of Newgrange, the site of the Battle of the Boyne, nor anywhere else within the Boyne Valley.
Addressing the likely traffic impact of the plant, Gareth Mitchell of consulting engineers Roughan & O'Donovan said he had examined the environmental impact assessment, visited the site and carried out internationally
standardised computer analysis of the proposed arrangements, and was satisfied. "In my opinion the proposed facility will not result in any significant impacts on the surrounding road network," he said.
Conor Jones, a chemical engineer who is engineering manager with Indaver Ireland, told the hearing that concern had been expressed that should the plant be limited in its electricity supply to the national grid, the plant would not be able to operate at capacity. This was not the case, he said, as the turbines could simply be bypassed. Mr Jones described how ash would be taken away by sealed lorries reversing into the plant to prevent the ash escaping. He also described how flue gases would be cleaned before being discharged to the atmosphere.
Patricia McGrath, compliance manager with the company, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits for emissions and the design of the facility would be within these parameters. She said these would be constantly monitored by the EPA, with results displayed on the internet.
© 2007 The Irish Times