THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment has granted permission to the Corrib gas developers to construct a key section of onshore pipeline without approval from An Bord Pleanála under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.
Shell EP Ireland and its consultants RPS had said earlier this summer that the entire onshore section would be submitted to An Bord Pleanála under the new fast-tracking legislation, apart from two estuary crossings which are regarded as "marine" and come under the Foreshore Act.
However, the Department of the Environment has confirmed that a high-pressure section at the Glengad landfall which runs under Dooncarton mountain, location of a 2003 landslide, and across a public beach used by locals and tourists is "exempted" from planning approval under the Planning and Development Act 2000.
This includes an area above the high water mark - the normal demarcation between foreshore and planning authority control - running up a low cliff to a proposed landvalve installation. The cliff face has already been broken into by the project's construction team.
It is understood that the statutory authorities have designated "onshore" as beginning from the land valve installation, designed to shut off or control the flow of unprocessed gas.
The Glengad landfall is within protected habitats under the EU habitats directive, encompassing a section which Minister for the Environment John Gormley ordered Shell consultants to restore last year due to damage to the special area of conservation (SAC).
The company intends to start laying the offshore section of the pipeline very shortly.
No review of enabling legislation for the landfall, awarded by former marine minister Frank Fahey in 2002, took place after the September 2003 landslide, when heavy rain washed 200,000 cubic metres of debris off Dooncarton mountain, destroying houses, roads and bridges and washing part of Pollathomas graveyard into the sea.
Erris community group Pobal Chill Chomáin is seeking a halt to the work pending a "rigorous geological survey and examination", as it says that serious local concerns remain regarding the de- stabilising effect that continuing works will have on the area.
Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan has been criticised for a failure to politically manage the project by former Rossport Five spokesman Dr Mark Garavan, and also by residents with whom Mr Ryan was in close contact with during his time in opposition - and who he met with during a private visit to the area last August.
Dr Garavan called yesterday on Mr Ryan to "start acting like a minister on the Corrib gas issue, stop hiding behind artificial legal constraints and demonstrate conviction and responsibility on this crucial issue".
Mr Ryan had "strongly and publicly supported the campaign of north Mayo residents to reconfigure the Corrib gas project to better protect their health and safety" while in opposition, Dr Garavan said. However, as Minister now responsible for the project, Mr Ryan had not responded to a recent compromise proposal for the refinery, or to a motion passed recently by the Green Party's national executive calling for an independent study into the best location for the refinery, Dr Garavan said.
As an opposition TD, in August 2005, Mr Ryan criticised the difficulty in obtaining information on aspects of the project. A spokeswoman for Mr Ryan said that all consents and processes, previous and upcoming, would be placed on the website with a dedicated e-mail address for information.
The Irish Times
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