A COUNTY council member has criticised the behaviour of environmentalists who object to major road projects as "immoral".
Councillor Johnnie O'Malley told fellow Ballina Electoral Area committee members he had serious concerns about the actions of environmental consultant Peter Sweetman. The Rathmines-based environmentalist recently objected to the second phase of the N26. According to Cllr O'Malley, Mr Sweetman - who previously blocked plans to open a government department at Knock Airport - seemed to have "a veto on economic development in Mayo."
"If ever there was a need for residency clauses, there's one here," the Fianna Fail member remarked. "This person is being allowed to put his foot on the neck of development in this area, where people are trying to live and keep their children living."
Cllr O'Malley made his remarks after a presentation by the Senior Engineer with the Regional Design Office, who said he was "optimistic" that the next phase of the N26 would see construction in 2010.
Tony McNulty noted that the project was the first this year to go through an oral hearing on the necessary Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). He said the three-day hearing had been quite successful, and that the concerns of many landowners had been addressed before the inquiry. The main objectors to the EIS included Mr Sweetman, the Central Fisheries Board and a group called Heat.
Cllr Annie Mai Reape asked what could be done to tackle the objections of people such as Mr Sweetman who lived outside the county but had challenged projects such as the pedestrian bridge in Ballina. She said these kind of objections "should be nipped in the bud".
Mr McNulty updated councillors on the next steps of the project, saying a decision from An Bord Pleanala was expected in "early summer". He hoped there would be no High Court challenge if the board gave its backing. Seven advance contracts for fencing, archaeological and geological surveys as well as other preliminary works will be issued. These are likely to take a year to complete. Detailed designs would be drawn up during this time. A Design-Build contract was likely to take eight months to finalise.
"Optimistically, the contractor should be on site by 2010, if not before that," Mr McNulty said. "I keep a ‘glass half full' attitude to this. With a two-year construction period, the road should be open by 2012. There's a lot of ‘ifs and buts', but we were first out of the traps this year with the CPOs."
Cllr Michelle Mulherin, Chairperson of the council's Roads and Transportation committee, said she had found the National Roads Authority (NRA) to be supportive of the project. However, she pointed out that a delegation to the NRA had been told the route wouldn't necessarily have priority in 2010.
Cllr Annie Mae Reape said she was "fairly optimistic" about the 2010 start date. She quipped that Ballina might have a native as Minister for the Environment by that date - a prospect that Cllr Eddie Staunton described as "very optimistic".