The councillors of Nenagh Municipal District were told during their September meeting that the waste at the former Shannon Vermicomposting site in Coolross, Rathcabbin will finally be moved in the coming years.
Cllr Seamus Morris began the hour-long discussion about this issue when he said thousands of tonnes of waste is buried at the Rathcabbin site and for years the locals have been waiting for it to be cleared. Cllr Ger Darcy said everyone is very frustrated that nothing has happened so far and they are all very keen to hear some good news.
Cllr Michael O’Meara remarked that he was glad to hear that a Council official had a report prepared for the meeting. He said the problem has been going on for many years. “People are very frustrated. Logistically, I understand that removing the waste is going to be a huge job. The waste or material is as far as I am aware an inert, non-hazardous material. Unfortunately the road network in the surrounding area leaves a lot to be desired.”
Ciaran McKenna, from the Environmental section of the County Council, talked at length about the landfill at Ballaghveny as well as the Rathcabbin site. He said it is proposed to reopen the Ballaghveny landfill because the waste from Rathcabbin is going to be transported and placed there. He talked about “the proposed enabling works” at the Ballaghveny Landfill at Woodville, Ballymackey. “Ballaghveny was developed from 1984 to 2004 with the aim of taking on waste. It took in waste from 2004 to 2011 during which time all the cells up to 10a were capped. It has a waste licence from the EPA therefore it can be reopened at any time and can take 49,000 tonnes of non hazardous waste such as sludge or garden waste.”
He said the waste / material at Shannon Vermicomposting will be mixed with soil. “When we reopen Ballaghveny we are not going back to taking in domestic waste. The enabling works will increase the leachate storage capacity. There will also be a leachate pumping station. The enabling works will cost about €900,000 and will take about seven or eight months to get done. Once they reopen Ballaghveny they will have to keep going until all the cells are filled, before closing the place down again. The Rathcabbin material won’t fill all of the available space.
Mr McKenna said he will seek expressions of interest for the use of the remaining void spaces at Ballaghveny. He said the Council is currently preparing tenders for the removal of the waste from Rathcabbin.
”It will cost about €900,000 for the enabling works to take place and it will take seven to eight months to carry them out. We will regularly consult with the Rathcabbin and Ballymackey communities; that is very important for us.”
Cllr O’Meara reiterated that it’s crucial the road network will be upgraded.
“This issue has been going on for the last 15 or 16 years,” he remarked. “It is a hugely emotive issue in the area. It is good to see that at long last Ballaghveny is being prepared for the receiving of the material. I live in the Rathcabbin area myself. When it became obvious in 2005 that Shannon Vermicomposting were not who they said they were and were making life worse for the community, the community came out in force and blocked the roads, with the aim of stopping the trucks going to and from the facility. Technically we were breaking the law when we blocked the roads but it turned out we were right and it was the right thing to do. The only pity was we didn’t start blocking the roads earlier because it would have stopped thousands of tonnes of material being dumped there.
“The County Council hired the best environmental barrister in the country at the time and won the case in the High Court, which led to the closing down of Shannon Vermicomposting.
“The heavy trucks damaging the roads at all times of the night as well as during the day, the bad smells at night, the possibility of our water source being polluted, all led to huge stress for the people of my community. People were worried that the market value of their farms would plummet. We were near the Shannon and people were worried it was polluting the Shannon and the other rivers in the area.
“For years we have been talking about getting the 40,000 tonnes of material left behind at the facility removed. People feel deeply about this. They want it removed now.
“As we begin removing the material we should keep the locals well informed. That is crucial. The road network to the site is in a very poor state and simply won’t be able to cope with big trucks removing the material. The community has suffered huge stress and inconvenience because of the Shannon Vermicomposting episode. Perhaps upgrading the roads might go a little way towards compensating them.
“The community in the Ballaghveny area are willing to work with the Council in relation to this.”
Cllr Seamus Morris pointed out that shutting down Shannon Vermicomposting back in 2005 was a victory for the people of Rathcabbin. “At the time they had to go to extraordinary lengths to stop what was going on there. My fear now is that our road network won’t be upgraded and the heavy trucks moving the material to the landfill will cause huge damage to the roads.”
“I am the only councillor still on the Council who was a councillor when this issue at Galross, Rathcabbin blew up,” remarked Cllr Ger Darcy. “The odour emanating from the facility was bad. The heavy traffic and the noise of night-time activity was disturbing. There was a fair bit of intimidation going on as well. The locals were scared. The Council fought the community’s cause. For a while it looked as if the Council was going to be thwarted no matter what route they took. Eventually, thankfully, they got it closed down. Initially Shannon Vermicomposting got planning permission to erect a few polytunnels in Coolross. It was meant to be a small, environmentally friendly operation. It quickly transpired that it was anything but with waste coming in from all over the country on a constant basis, in huge trucks. People wondered what was that waste. They wondered what was going on.
“The community in Ballymackey were glad when the landfill closed a few years ago because it meant that life could now get back to normal. Now it’s going to cost €900,000 to open up the landfill again. That road from Lucky Bags to the landfill is not going to be able to cope with big trucks regularly going up and down. Will the landfill be open for a short or a long period of time?”
Cllr Hughie McGrath inquired when this material in Rathcabbin was disturbed would it give off an unpleasant odour from the transporting trucks? “Huge trucks can cause havoc on country roads. For the most part, these trucks won’t be able to meet each other on these small roads. You are talking about mixing the Rathcabbin material with imported material at Ballaghveny. Will this mixing work cause an odour? The material might be inert and non-hazardous but my experience is that when moving stuff like this it can often give off a bad odour.”
Cllr Phyll Bugler asked what would happen to the Rathcabbin site once the material had been cleared. Cllr Joe Hannigan asked would a gaping hole be left there. Who owned the site, he asked. “Because the EPA gave the go-ahead for Shannon Vermicomposting back in 2005 then it should foot the bill for this clearing up operation. It is imperative that the roads are upgraded before the moving starts.” He said the material looks like peat.
Mr McKenna replied that the Council is very aware of the huge human impact of this whole episode. “We want to address any concerns as best we can which the people of Rathcabbin or Ballymackey might have.” He added that the cells will be lined and the material will be mixed so the machinery doesn’t sink into it. He said it will take two years to remove all the waste from Rathcabbin to Ballaghveny. “Unfortunately we can’t take it all in one go.”
Cllr Hannigan said it will take about 7,000 “traffic movements” to transport all the material. Mr McKenna said there could be “18 or 19 truck manoeuvres per day. After all the material from Rathcabbin has been delivered there will still be room in the landfill. We will have to keep filling it until it is totally full before we can close it off. We will be filling it up with other non-hazardous waste from elsewhere.” He said the route from Rathcabbin to Ballaghveny will pass through Borrisokane, will go along the R490, onto the R445 towards Toomevara and then cut off for the landfill (which is to the east of Nenagh). He said all activity at the landfill will be in full compliance with the waste licence. The trucks will have GPS tracking systems to ensure they follow the designated route. “Our tests show that the material shouldn’t give off any odour when it is being moved. A certain amount of funding will be available from the government for this. After that our own capital budget will cover the remaining costs. The gate fee at Ballaghveny should increase our capital budget sufficiently to cover the cost. As the landfill is filled with waste the three cells will be capped on a sequential basis. The intention is to leave the landfill and the Rathcabbin site in the best condition possible environmentally speaking.”
Cllr O’Meara thanked Mr McKenna for his presentation to the councillors. “It is a difficult and emotive subject and I don’t envy you your job. I am disappointed to hear it will take two years because people were hoping it would be a much shorter timeframe. However, at the end of the day I think it will work out ok and will be a positive thing.”
Marcus O’Connor, Director of Services, commented that overall this is a good news story. “It also gives us an opportunity to fully and properly restore Ballaghveny to a pristine condition. The material being transported will be lighter than commonly transported material such as sand and gravel. We will work out a traffic plan for its smooth operation.”
”We all knew this was going to be a big job,” remarked Cllr Darcy. “Now it seems bigger than what we were envisaging, but nonetheless it has to be done. I note that the proposed road route means the trucks will be driving through part of Offaly.” Mr McKenna said he has been in contact with Offaly County Council. He said it could take up to six years to completely fill Ballaghveny after it is reopened.
Cllr Hannigan said he hoped the roads budget won’t be reduced as a result.
Mr McKenna said they examined the possibility of processing the material on the Rathcabbin site itself but this wouldn’t work.