Oireachtas members examine Garryhinch site

IT could be up to ten years before the proposed €470million eco-water park and reservoir is operational, members of a joint Oireachtas committee on the environment were informed during a visit to the proposed site at Garryhinch Bog, last week.

IT could be up to ten years before the proposed €470million eco-water park and reservoir is operational, members of a joint Oireachtas committee on the environment were informed during a visit to the proposed site at Garryhinch Bog, last week.

The Bord na Mona water project which has been in the planning for the last ten years has the potential to create 1,000 construction jobs over three years and could employ upto 150 people once the leisure facilities are opened to the public.

Plans to ease the pressure on Dublin’s water supply have been in the offing since 1996, but Bord na Móna’s preferred option now involved bringing water from Lough Derg to their bog at Garryhinch and supplying it as required to its market.

The project is still at the pre-planning stage and must proceed through planning before the Department of Environmnet, Heritage and local Governement decides how it will be delivered.

According to a Bord na Móna fact sheet on the water supply project, the storage at Garryhinch would be sized to meet the worst drought on record. The resevoir would span 700 acres at five metres deep. The adjoiing 600 acres at Garrymore Bog would provide additional storage later this century. The eco-park leisure facilities would be designed based on similar European reservoirs and a wind farm would be incorporated. The treated water would be supplied to 10 local authorities.

The capital cost of the project is €470m and construction will take three years.

“The members visit was very positive and very informative. We took them to Lough Boora in Offaly where they could see what we were envisioned but on a much smaller scale,” Colm O Gógáin, director of strategic infrastructure with Bord na Mona explained.

But despite the government visit to the site, it will be late next year, at the earliest, before the semi-state company are ready to submit a planning application.

“We would hope to submit a planning application in late 2012/early 2013. We have to go through a rigourous environmental assessment, which will take almost 12 months as you have to cover all seasonality of the wildlife on the bog.

“We will also be engaging with relevant organisations and the local community to hear their views.”

One point of concern about the project is the road network leading to the site which is to be developed.

“I would expect that to be a condition of planning,” Mr Gógáin said, “access to the site would be critical especially for the development in tourism.”

Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee, Ciaran Lynch TD, said the resevoir had the potential to create a water supply for the Dublin region for the next 40-50 years.

“This is something that is under consideration of the governement, Bord na Móna are meeting with the department and there is a series of environmental studies that are being carried out.”

Asked if there was the finance to see the project through to fruition, Deputy Lynch said said that the best models of efficiencies would be looked at.

“Bord na Móna is the project leader on this and as a semi state company they can operate the lending and borrowing, but best efficiences will be looked at.”

While supporting the project, Laois TD Brian Stanley who is a member of the Oireachtas committee that visited Garryhinch last wednesday said all the facts needed to be examined.

A former, Bord na Mona employee himself, Deputy Stanley’s family involvement with the company goes back over 60 years.

“All of the facts with regard to the proposed reservoir at Garryhinch near Portarlington need to be evaluated prior to any decision being made. So far the debate has been dominated by much headline grabbing from those on both sides without the full picture being available and this can lead to ill informed and premature comment.”

The Sinn Fein TD said he has a particular interest in this project and he will give it careful consideration as it has major job creation potential in the areas of both tourism and construction.

As part of a consultation process with all interested parties, Deputy Stanley will also be proposing a meeting in the Dáil with The Shannon Protection Alliance to give them the opportunity to state their case to the Oireachtas Committee.

Labour Senator John Whelan also attended the governments trip to the site, although he is not a member of the Environmnet committee. He said the site was perfect for Bord na Móna’s proposal.

“Today was an opportunity for the members to come down and visit the site, see its suitability, the type of terrain and also its important in this case that its not proximate to built up areas. Because they have the space, important that it doesn’t encroach on the town or other domestic dwellings. This site is literally perfect for the proposals being put forward.

Meanwhile Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said she saw this as being a long-term project which will make full use of the natural resources in the Midlands. “In the Midlands we have water, so it makes perfect sense for us to harness that potential and use it to supply the drinking water for the population of Dublin, where it is needed,” she said.

“It is a fantastic and well-presented project which would make full use of the natural resources we have in the Midlands, and would also provide much-needed jobs” said Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, who added that she is looking forward to examining the environmental impact of the project on the Shannon basin as part of the work of the Oireachtas Committee over the coming months.