Friday, 12 September 2008

State fails to treat sewage properly at six sites

WASTE TREATMENT: THE EUROPEAN Court of Justice has ruled that Ireland has failed to treat sewage properly at six locations around the country.

The State was found to be in breach of a 1991 EU law on urban waste water in: Bray, Co Wicklow; Howth, Co Dublin; Shanganagh, Co Dublin; Letterkenny, Co Donegal; Tramore, Co Waterford, and Sligo.

The court ordered Ireland to pay costs in the case but did not impose fines, allowing the Government to comply with the ruling. A Government spokeswoman said: “The previous difficulties have all now been resolved and work to meet the requirements is under way.”

The European Commission took the case in 2004 after it found Ireland had continued to be in breach of the 1991 directive – despite having had until the end of 2000 to have the proper treatment plants in place.

The Government accepted that in five of the areas it was in breach of EU law, but it said this was because of delays over land acquisition, permits, environmental impact statements and other legal and technical requirements.

The court rejected this defence.

“Member states cannot plead internal circumstances or practical difficulties to justify non-compliance with obligations arising from rules of community law,” yesterday’s judgment noted.

Ireland disputed that it was in breach of the law at Howth, saying the catchment area was not large enough to need the type of sewage treatment plant required under the 1991 directive, since part of the Howth waste was being processed at a different plant.

The court said it was Ireland which initially defined Howth as being large enough to need such a sewage plant. Ireland “has not provided, in the present case, any convincing evidence or argument to justify a finding that the area from which the as yet untreated urban waste water comes should no longer be considered to form part of that agglomeration”, noted the judgment.

Ireland also complained to the court that the commission had changed the complaint it made over the Letterkenny plant, saying initially it did not have a proper sewage treatment plant but then changing tack to say the plant was overloaded. The court also rejected this argument.

A Government statement indicated the Tramore scheme was completed in 2007 while work at Sligo is “substantially complete”.

“Construction is under way on two of the three contracts for the Howth scheme, with the third contract to commence shortly,” it said. Work at Bray/Shanganagh is expected to start this year while the Letterkenny scheme is to go to tender, with construction set to start in about a year’s time.

The EU law was adopted in May 1991 to protect the environment from household and industrial waste water. It sets out different steps for treating sewage based on population and water sensitivity.

Where water is high in nitrogen and/or phosphorous, further steps are needed to treat it.

The Irish Times

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