The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been urged to prevent a land rezoning in south Galway that threatens the future of the Clarenbridge oyster industry.
Labour Party president and Galway West TD Michael D Higgins says if the EPA is to "have any credibility", it must intervene before Galway county councillors amend their county development plan on May 28th.
Earlier this year, councillors decided to make 17 material alterations to the Clarenbridge local area plan.
The material alterations resulted in an extra 115 acres of land within the village boundary being zoned for development - totalling 180 acres - in what is described as a "small settlement" in the county plan.
Residents say this would expand the village of just over 400 people to a suburb of up to 10,000 at a time when other suburban areas in Galway are suffering serious water contamination due to overdevelopment.
The move was made against the advice of the Galway county manager and planning officials, and some 333 submissions opposing the move have been filed.
Residents of the village point out that the adequate sewerage and water treatment infrastructure is not provided for in the Clarenbridge area plan.
Moreover, members of the Clarenbridge oyster community have argued that provision of adequate sewerage facilities is required if the 700 acres harvested in Dunbulcan Bay are to maintain "class A" status.
Local residents in Clarenbridge are supporting their demand for a permanent buffer zone of up to 400m (0.25 miles) on the eastern, northern and southern shores of the bay to protect their industry and the shoreline environment.
Drinking water in the area has already exceeded E.coli parameters, and the limestone aquifer on which the village is located holds the highest rating for vulnerability to pollution, according to Geological Survey of Ireland assessments. The issue underscores the fact that successive governments have failed to implement policy on coastal-zone management.
Supporters of a group known as the Concerned Clarenbridge Residents have contacted individual Galway councillors to seek their support for the proposed buffer zone.
The group argues that the oyster fisheries are world famous, and provide full and part-time work for 204 members of the oyster co-operative and their families.
This has a significant spin-off for the local economy, it emphasises, and is worth some €5 million annually.
To date, only one of 10 Fianna Fáil councillors and four of 10 Fine Gael councillors have confirmed to the grouping that they "agree with" the buffer zoning, while three Progressive Democrats councillors, three of four Independents, and the Sinn Féin and Labour representatives on the local authority have also said they support it.
Ms Bridgette Brew, spokeswoman for the residents, said that this indicated those councillors who didn't support the oyster industry were in favour of the rezoning.
Mr Higgins says he has contacted the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement on the issue to prevent "further environmental disaster in Galway". The agency must make its views known to councillors before the May 28th meeting, he says.
"Irresponsible action" has already destroyed a natural oyster bed at Clarenbridge, he points out.
Earlier this year, EPA director, Dr Mary Kelly, noted that enhanced powers given to the agency under the Protection of the Environment Act for "tackling environmental crime" had been used to good effect.
© 2007 The Irish Times