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Shell Corrib Gas Pipeline Controversy Continues


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pipe section exempted from planning approval

LORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent

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.

© 2008 The Irish Times


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

‘Paradise’ lost for residents of ‘God’s own country’ in Mayo


For the Henry family in Erris, there seems to be no escaping Shell’s security and monitoring despite never having been involved with the protesters opposed to the development

COLM HENRY would like to invite the two Green Party Government Ministers to visit his home in what he describes as “God’s own country” of Erris, Co Mayo.

It was a paradise, he says, when he and his wife, Gabrielle, built their house on some of her family land there 30 years ago – overlooking Sruwaddacon Bay and the wide sweep of Broadhaven – designated a special area of conservation due to diverse marine and shoreline flora and fauna.

Outside his house last weekend, he and his family watched as a pod of dolphins within Broadhaven Bay was herded away by a speed boat hired to work on the Corrib gas project.

Some 155 pots set in the bay and owned by the O’Donnell family have also been damaged over the past week, according to local people. Shell EP Ireland has confirmed that it is in dialogue with two local fishermen who had reported incidents and intends to “compensate them speedily for any losses incurred”.

As for the golden beach just down from the Henrys’ house, it now resembles an extended security zone.

Henry, who is a musician and has worked in construction, taught his children to swim there. He had hoped to do the same with his grandchildren but, since April, any walk across his wife’s family land to the shore has been monitored by unidentified security staff hired by Shell.

Henry stresses he supports the project, if conducted safely. He has not been involved in the protest group Shell to Sea but has lodged formal complaints with the Garda, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Children about the security measures. Shell has denied that there is any video footage of the children.

Since late last week, public access to the beach has been blocked off entirely by high steel fencing, which extends for more than half a mile along the landscape. No notice has been posted and there is no mention on Shell’s publicity material.

Wave and sand action has twisted the fencing, snapping welds to 1,620kg blocks. Visitors (including The Irish Times) are observed by unidentified security bearing video cameras, binoculars and notepads.

Shell EP Ireland says the fencing is required by law and that it has distributed information to residents. Henry says he was never contacted by the company before his public comments on the surveillance and his house is not accounted for in the current environmental impact statement for the project.

When he and a number of residents questioned the authorisation last Tuesday, they were arrested for trespassing by gardaí and taken to Belmullet Garda station, where they were later released without charge.

Shell says the security is required due to “intimidation” of previous staff and due to more than €100,000 worth of damage caused to equipment in Glengad, Lenamore and Rossport.

Pobal Chill Chomáin, the new community group formed to back a compromise proposal for the gas refinery, says it would never condone such action. The group has offered to meet Supt John Gilligan of Belmullet station to discuss policing issues of concern.

Supt Gilligan has confirmed that he has refused to meet the group. He says a number of complaints by different parties in relation to Corrib gas are being investigated.

Allegations of damaged equipment related to a fire last February at Lenamore and the cutting of nets erected by the developers at Glengad to prevent sand martins nesting on the cliff. Alleged assaults are also being investigated, along with the reported surveillance of the Henry family by Shell security, Supt Gilligan says.

Tensions in Glengad are exacerbated by concerns about geological instability, given the area’s landslide experience of 2003. A recent bog burst, confirmed by ESB staff, occurred during Mayo County Council’s current road-widening along a sensitive habitat to facilitate the work at Glengad.

The Glengad/Pollathomas shoreline was formerly home to a Rossport solidarity camp, established after the jailing of the Rossport five over opposition to the onshore pipeline in 2005.

“They were super young people, kept the beach spotless and were encouraged by the National Parks and Wildlife Service,” Henry recalls. However, under an order obtained by Mayo County Council last year, the camp was required to move on environmental grounds.

© 2008 The Irish Times


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Retention of Corrib details an oversight, says Minister

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

MINISTER FOR Energy Eamon Ryan has acknowledged an “oversight” in failing to publish latest authorisations for work on the Corrib gas project.

This follows criticism from members of his party and community representatives in Erris over the Department of Energy’s failure to make public key information about current work at the Glengad landfall for the pipeline.

A spokewoman for Mr Ryan said the department had activated authorisation of certain consents for the works, but this information was not made publicly available.

This was an “oversight”, the spokeswoman said, and all authorisations and new information relating to the department’s role would be published on the website from today. Relevant authorisations would also be published in future in the local press, the spokeswoman said.

Twelve residents who staged a peaceful protest to question the authorisations were arrested by gardaí on Tuesday, and later released without charge.

PJ Moran, one of the 12, said he would “never have participated in the protest” if he had known about the authorisations.

Dr Mark Garavan, former spokesman for the Rossport five, was also critical of the dearth of information.

“All information should be made clear, and the fact that this work on Glengad relates to consents originally approved before the 2003 Pollathomas landslide also needs to be questioned,” Dr Garavan said.

Andy Wilson, of the Mayo branch of the Green Party, said the work at Glengad in advance of approval for the pipeline made a “complete mockery” of the planning process.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he called on Mr Ryan to support the recommendations of the recent Green Party national council motion, which called for the establishment of an independent review body to examine alternative refinery sites in north Mayo.

Pobal Chill Chomáin, a local community group, has called on the two Green Party Government Ministers to cease all civil engineering works by Shell E&P Ireland in the Pollathomas and Glengad area until a “rigorous geological survey and examination” is conducted.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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