A CONTROVERSIAL decision to grant planning permission for an airport extension through a protected maritime habitat has prompted outrage from objectors.
Sligo County Council has granted permission for the 285- metre extension to the runway at Sligo Airport into the sea, with 10 conditions attached.
But opponents of the plan warned yesterday that the development, across an environmentally sensitive area of wetland that is protected under the EU Habitats' Directive, could land the taxpayer with substantial fines. They are seeking justification for the €10m development which will not result in any larger planes being able to land.
John McDermott, spokesperson for the Dorrin's and Cummeen Strand Conservation Group (DCCG), described the decision as "simply outrageous" and said that the group would be appealing it to An Bord Pleanala.
"There is no doubt but that we are appealing this, all the way to the Supreme Court and Europe if necessary. We are absolutely shocked as all the evidence that we have suggests that this development is totally illegal and that it cannot happen because it is happening in a protected area.
"We believe this decision has exposed the taxpayer to enormous fines from Europe," he said.
Mr McDermott argued that the application had failed to meet two conditions required to justify building on a protected area. They had not shown that there were no alternatives and they had not proven an overriding need for the development.
"Clearly there are alternatives to building on Dorrin's Strand. We would also say that whatever about justifying such a development during the Celtic Tiger years, there is no justification now.
"Our information is that the planes are routinely half full or less," he said.
He added that the extension through the sheltered bay of Dorrin's Strand, an important wildfowl habitat and the location of thriving shellfish farm, would create new channels of water, which could threaten access to the picturesque Coney Island.
"There is no doubt that the construction will have a major impact," added Mr McDermott.
Sligo Airport currently hosts two daily flights to Dublin. Aer Arann flights to and from Manchester were abandoned earlier this year.
The airport authority, which aims to double the present number of 50,000 passengers per year, has argued that the extension to the existing runway on land reclaimed from the foreshore is a necessary development to ensure the airport's future.
Sligo Airport manager Joe Corcoran described it as a positive decision but added it was only the first step towards delivering the project.
Chairman of the board, Albert Higgins expressed his delight that planning permission had been received.
"It has been a very vigorous application. It has taken a long time to adjudicate. We are confident that we have looked into everything," he said.
In November 2002 passengers and crew on board a Celtic Airways flight were forced to evacuate down emergency ladders after the aircraft skidded off the runway, and came to a halt with its nose in the sea.
In its report, the Aviation Authority pointed to the lack of an adequate over run area and made a number of safety recommendations.