Saturday, 19 December 2009

Waste permit controversy

A FORMER director of Environmental Services at Wicklow County Council had a signed waste permit and removed and replaced with an unsigned version.

Papers released by the Department of the Environment under the Freedom of Information Act show that the existence of the permit only came to light after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it had a copy of the permit retained in its files.

The waste permit related to land belonging to the Byrne family of Ballybeg, Rathnew. The family had agreed to let a road building consortium to use a site as a 'borrow' pit, for the extraction of soil and later for infill, as part of the construction of the Ashford/Rathnew bypass.

The deal, worth €400,000 was dependent on Wicklow County Council granting a waste permit.

The FOI documents include a draft report by the Local Government Audit Service (LGAS). The main report couldn't be found but Information Commissioner, Emily O'Reilly, felt the draft report appeared to be 'a largely factual statement of events', while noting the main LGAS file 'has apparently disappeared without explanation.'

In the report it is revealed that Michael Nicholson, the then Director of Environmental Services, signed the waste permit on Friday, January 17, 2003. But three days later on Monday, January 20, he instructed the removal of the signed copy from the file to be replaced with an unsigned permit. The signed permit was shredded and a copy being sent to the applicant was withdrawn from the post.

Letters show that the Environmental Department of Wicklow County Council wrote to solicitors for the Byrne family on March 10 2003, stating 'your clients visited our office last week and the full file was made available to them.' The letter added that the waste permit 'has not being signed yet.'

Wicklow County Council did issue an apology to the landowner for giving false information and a new permit was signed by Mr. Nicholson on May 15 2003 and backdated to January 17.

The draft report says it was Mr. Nicholson's contention that he was acting to save the council money because payments from the contractor to the landowner could add to the final road bills the council would end up paying the contractor.

LGAS Director of Audit, Noel O'Connell wrote to Minister of the Environment at the time, Dick Roche, stating that 'an administrative error occurred but had no wider implications for the overall quality of the councils systems and procedures in the area of waste management.'

Wicklow People

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