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Mixed Reaction To Lough Derg Pipe At Birr Meeting

Thursday, 16 February 2017

THERE was a mixed reaction to the proposed Lough Derg pipe at a public meeting in Ballyegan Hall, Birr on Friday evening.

 The meeting was hosted by the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers' Association and was attended by about 50 farmers and concerned people. 

Irish Water is proposing to construct a 170km pipeline to take water from the Shannon (at Parteen Weir) to Dublin. The pipe will travel through North Tipperary, Offaly, Kildare and terminate at Peamount in West Dublin.

 It's a €1.2 billion project which could involve microtunnelling under seven rivers. Irish Water and its parent company Ervia (formerly Bord Gáis) will submit a planning application for the project to An Bord Pleanála in late 2017. If it's approved, work will commence in 2019 and be completed by 2024.

Farmers and landowners will be asked to grant a 50 metre wide right of way, which will become a 20 metre wayleave when the pipe has been built. The pipe itself will be 1.6 metres to 2.3 metres in diameter, with a four metre deep trench.

Many farmers are opposed to the pipe, despite the promise of financial compensation, with some stating that the soil will never be the same again, because the combination of heavy machinery and wet Irish weather will be a bad thing. A campaign called 'Fight the Pipe' was formed during the summer and it has built up a strong level of support from people living in the Shannon region. 

Friday evening's meeting discussed the question, Pipe Dream or Nightmare? Tom Egan, the Tipperary Chairman of the ICSA, chaired the meeting and pointed out that there is a lack of clarity on a number of issues concerning the pipeline 'and local landowners still have many reservations about the project.'

It was evident from contributions from the floor that while quite a few people in the hall were strongly opposed to the project, a number felt it was a fait accompli and they should simply try to get the best deal they could.

 Cllr John Leahy said he believed the pipeline will probably go ahead, therefore they should make the best of the situation. He said people are concerned about the proposed route, the pipe's cost, and potential damage to land. 'I find it difficult to see how a large infrastructural project can be halted', he remarked. 'I think that the landowners affected need to get the best deal possible in terms of compensation for the loss of land for work or potential sites (for houses), the damage to the land due to construction and also a deal on the soil (also referred to in this context as "waste") - we should aim for a deal where the waste soil can be retained on the land for the landowners' use, such as upgrading less good fields'.

 Cllr Joe Hannigan felt people shouldn't give in so easily. He said there is very strong opposition among many farmers in the Tipperary area of Lough Derg to the pipe. He said Ireland is too Dublin-centric and the pipe project will reinforce that centric scenario. 

 Liam Minehan of Fight the Pipe drew everyone's attention to Emma Kennedy's report on the project, copies of which were handed out to everyone at the meeting.

The Kennedy Report claims that the need for the Shannon project no longer exists, and it must be put on hold and reassessed on the basis of correct analysis. It argues that spending up to €1.2 billion on a project that is no longer needed is a reckless waste of scarce financial resources.

 'This project,' it states, 'has been going on for two decades (since 1996) and has repeatedly overestimated Dublin's future water demand. In fact, Dublin's average water demand has plateaued for the last nine years at around 540 million litres per day, despite its population having continued to grow. Dublin has never had a shortage of raw water, but until a few years ago it had a desperate shortage of water treatment capacity (i.e. the ability to convert raw water into drinkable treated water).

Dublin's various water crises (from 2010 to 2014) happened because, at the time, Dublin had only 2 per cent spare water treatment capacity (it always had plenty of raw water). Since those crises almost all of Dublin's water treatment plants have been upgraded and treatment capacity has been increased significantly.

'Dublin now operates with 26 per cent spare capacity and brand new, state-of-the-art water treatment plants. Dublin's remaining water infrastructure issues related to 50 per cent leakage levels in its waterpipes (versus less than 10 per cent in most comparable cities), and the ability to freely deploy water around its water network. Irish Water is already addressing both of these issues.

'The 2015 Project Need Report (Irish Water's justification for this project) was littered with mathematical and analytical errors. These resulted in the report overstating Dublin's future water demand and understating Dublin's water treatment capacity.'

The meeting was told that the Kennedy Report makes clear that once the multiple errors contained in the Project Need Report have been corrected and the recent improvements to Dublin's water infrastructure are correctly accounted for, then the conclusion is that a) Dublin has no current water crisis, and b) Dublin will almost certainly have a significant water surplus for the next 35 years.

Deputies Barry Cowen and Carol Nolan and Councillors Seán Maher and Peter Ormond were also at the Ballyegan meeting.

The meeting was told that farmers and members of the general public had until Tuesday February 14th to lodge their concerns with Irish Water.

 It was pointed out that a similar ICSA public meeting in Tipperary last week was notable for the strong opposition to the waterpipe amongst the attendees. 

Patrick Kent, ICSA President, and Eddie Punch, ICSA General Secretary also attended the Ballyegan Hall meeting, as did William Reid, the Offaly ICSA Chairman.

Liam Minehan commented that Irish Water is currently in discussions with landowners. He said Irish Water is not buying the land but will be getting wayleaves to access the land. He said this project is yet another example of the neglect of rural Ireland and an over emphasis on Dublin, with the result that more and more people are having to commute into the capital city for work. Many people would rather not commute, thus giving them more time to spend with their families.

'Irish Water are scaremongering,' commented Mr Minehan. 'They are trying to scaremonger the people of Ireland into backing this pipe. What the people of Ireland are being told is completely false. This is a gravy train which is out of control. The project needs to be examined by the Public Accounts Committee'.

William Reid pointed out that the Kennedy Report makes it clear that Irish Water's figures are incorrect, and the true figures could not build a case for the pipe. 'There are several significant aquifers in the Dublin region which they could tap into.' Mr Reid added that he knows many farmers who don't want the pipe going through their land and they won't be swayed by the offer of monetary compensation.

Mr Punch pointed out that the monetary compensation disappears quickly enough, but the land is an asset which lasts for ever. He urged people to think carefully before accepting the compensation. Mr Reid added that sometimes big infrastructural projects of this nature can lead to flooding problems on people's land. He urged landowners to have their land professionally assessed prior to allowing Irish Water onto their land.

  One farmer said Irish Water could use the Grand Canal for the pipe.

  Mr Reid commented that pollution problems can arise from these infrastructural projects. For example a pipe was laid from Lough Derg to Nenagh and it's believed that this pipe is the cause of pollution in a bay (Luska Bay in Coolbaun) in Lough Derg. Mr Minehan said this pipe went through his land, causing a physical depression in the land and a decreased yield.

Deputy Cowen said An Bord Pleanála will be the final arbiters in this conflict of reports between Emma Kennedy's report and Irish Water's Project Need Report. He said the Fight the Pipe campaign might have to resort to the courts in their struggle against the project. He added that both reports could be examined by an Oireachtas committee.

 Deputy Carol Nolan said the combination of Irish Water and this pipe project set off alarm bells in her head. She said Irish Water is a very unpopular organisation which has taken many wrong turns. 

 She pointed out that this project might not just affect farmers' livelihoods but could also destroy ecosystems.

 Mr Punch commented that €1.2 billion is being assigned for this project while only €60 million was recently granted for rural Ireland, which points to a big disconnect. He said there is too much focus on Dublin, at the cost of the rest of the country.

Cllr Ormond remarked that the Council executive is in favour of the pipe. He said the executive admitted that the water quality would be hard.

  Cllr Hannigan said rural Ireland is 'on its knees' and needs much more than 60 million Euro.

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