MINISTER FOR the Environment John Gormley has ordered an independent inquiry into the Ringsend sewage plant following the payment by Dublin City Council of an additional €35.6 million to the developers of the facility.
The council said last night that it would co-operate with the Minister's inquiry but has not clarified why the contractors, the ABA consortium, should be given additional money.
It is understood the money relates to work undertaken to eliminate the odours that emanated from the plant since it opened in 2003.
The plant has made a substantial improvement to the water quality in Dublin Bay. However, residents of the surrounding suburbs of Ringsend, Sandymount and Irishtown have had to contend with a persistent foul odour since the plant began operations.
The council and ABA, a construction and operations consortium involving Ascon, sewerage specialists Black Veatch and Anglia Water, have made several attempts to resolve the problem.
In April 2005 the council said it would refuse to sign off on the €300 million project until ABA eliminated the problem.
The council was also seeking reimbursement of the €1 million it has invested in odour-abatement measures.
Later that year the council decided to spend an additional €5 million of public money on the odour elimination programme, but maintained that the consortium would still foot the bill for the capital costs of the necessary systems and machinery. The €5 million was associated with the annual cost of processing the city and county's waste, assistant city manager Matt Twomey said.
Now, however, it appears the council has made an additional payment of €35.6 million to cover ABA's costs, despite having given assurances that the public purse would not bear the brunt of the defects in the plant.
The council would not say last night why it has handed over the money, but in a statement said it was its priority to resolve issues relating to odours from the works.
"The necessary works are on time and within budget and will be completed in the autumn as previously announced," it said.
"The city council will co-operate with the independent investigation which the Minister has announced," the statement concluded.
Mr Gormley has sanctioned the council's payment to ABA, but said he wanted an inquiry to resolve the questions surrounding the design and capacity of the plant and the efforts to deal with the odour issue.
"There were protracted delays at commissioning and testing of the new plant in 2002 when it experienced difficulties in achieving the required performance standards. In addition, odour problems were experienced within a short time of the plant coming into operation."
Damien Cassidy of the Ringsend Environment Group said he was aghast that "a bonus" had been paid."€36 million at a time of economic depression.
"For what? For creating a smell that people down here had to put up with since July 2003? It's pungent."
OLIVIA KELLY and ADAM HARVEY
The Irish Times