WORK on the controversial waste incinerator at Carranstown,Duleek-Ireland's first commercial thermal treatment plant - finally began last week, almost a decade after it was first proposed.
The EUR130 million incinerator, which has been bitterly opposed in a 10-year battle by the local community, will take two-and-a-half years to build and will process 200,000 tonnes of municipal waste each year.
Work began last week on site preparation and extending the entrance to the site at Carranstown, outside Duleek.
The erection of a hoarding, the provision of an additional traffic lane to facilitate site traffic and other preparatory works will continue over the next few weeks.
Indaver has appointed John Sisk and Son Ltd as main contractor for the preliminary works, which will last three months.
An international consortium of French companies Litwin and LAB and the Danish company Volund will build the state-of-the-art waste-to-energy facility. This consortium is also expected to include an Irish construction company to assist in further construction work; the Irish contractor will be appointed in the coming months.
Construction of the project is valued at EUR130 million and is expected to take two-and-a-half years, with the waste-to-energy plant set to be operational from the start of 2011, and employing 60 people.
Expressing his dismay that work has started on the project, Pat O'Brien of local campaign group, the No Incineration Alliance, said the incinerator would have a serious and negative effect on everybody's health and wellbeing.
However, as it was going to built, he said the very least they could do was fight for proper controls and regulations to be independently enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
He called on Environment Minister John Gormley to ensure that an independent baseline study of all existing toxins within the region be completed without delay, "This would give us a strong indication of what levels are at now, and if we have any problems with the incinerator in future, at least have something to compare it with," he said.
Mr O'Brien said the cost of the independent study could be funded by all the companies involved, with heavy industries in the region including Indaver, Irish Cement, GreenStar and others contributing.
"We have been calling for baseline studies plus a proper detailed health impact assessment for some time now and Minister Gormley should ensure they are completed as soon as possible and certainly before construction is completed," Mr O'Brien added.
He also called for a permanent EPA regional office within this area to help to give confidence to local residents in relation to proper monitoring and regulation of the facility. He also demanded that the EPA be properly funded and staffed, and that it would have the legal powers to do there job properly.
"At the moment, they are seen as a toothless monster, with no real powers to do the job they are meant to be doing," he claimed.
The incinerator project was the most controversial planning application ever to come before Meath County Council, with more than 4,000 individual objections to the original planning application and a petition against the plan signed by 27,000 people.
Among the original objectors were former Taoiseach John Bruton, An Taisce, the No Incineration Alliance, local councillors and Northern Ireland Unionists.
Planning permission for the development was granted by Meath County Council in 2001 and, the following year, Bord Pleanala heard a large number of objections during a lengthy oral hearing, but gave the project the green light in 2003 against the advice of its senior planning inspector, James Carroll.
A further planning application to expand the incinerator was approved by Bord Pleanala last year. Indaver had applied to increase the plant's size by one-third, enabling it to take 200,000 tonnes of waste a year, rather than the previous total of 150,000 and to increase the proposed height of the chimney stack from 40 to 65 metres.
A licence to operate an incinerator was granted to the company by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 and, last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the company, following a lengthy legal battle against the proposal by local resident, Eric Martin.