Wind farm landslide site stability not properly checked since 2005 – report – Independent.ie

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Diggers clear peat and trees to build dams to stop the landslide at Derrybrien in 2003. Photo: Andrew Downes
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Caroline O'Doherty
September 10 2021 02:30 AM
A fresh report on the Derrybrien wind farm, where a massive landslide took place in 2003, says adequate checks on the stability of the land have not taken place for 16 years.
The State is paying €15,000 a day in fines to the European Commission because of failures to properly assess the project’s environmental impact before its 70 turbines were built on a peat-covered mountainside in Co Galway.
Just under €10.5m has been paid out, with sums due taking the total to €15m so far.
Efforts are being made to bring the development into compliance and cap the costs.
However, a report prepared for the European Commission says the wind farm's environmental impact has still not been properly assessed.
“The site as a whole has not been subject to survey relevant to slope stability since 2005,” the report states.
It questions how areas classified as ‘of unacceptable risk’ in 1998, when the project began, were reclassified last year as ‘of negligible risk’.
“This claim is not supported by any recent data,” it says.
The claim is made by the ESB, which owns the wind farm through its subsidiary, Gort Windfarms, in a retrospective assessment submitted to An Bord Pleanála as part of an application for ‘substitute consent’ for the project.
Substitute consent is a form of planning approval used when proper planning procedures were not followed during the original process.
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The commission report questions the ESB’s view that the wind farm has not and will not result in significant adverse impacts, saying that does not reflect “the potential issue around slope instability and potential for peat slide events”.
It also criticises the ESB for insufficient impact analysis on wildlife, failing to consider alternatives to continuing operation on the site, failing to plan for management of the site when it is decommissioned in 2040, and inadequate public engagement.
It also highlights the apparent contradiction of the ESB erecting signs warning people not to cut peat because the ground is unstable.
The ESB said: “As the substitute consent application is currently being considered by An Bord Pleanála, we are not in a position to comment.”
In its application to An Bord Pleanála, it stresses that the European court rulings were made against the State, and that the ESB had followed all procedures legally required of it at the time.
The landslide in October 2003 caused extensive damage to land, property, roads and rivers.
The State was ordered by the European Court of Justice to retrospectively assess the development in 2008, but did not comply. The fines kicked in from November 2019 after a follow-up ruling.
Submissions on the substitute consent application can be made until Monday.
Martin Collins of the Derrybrien Landslide Action Group said the whole process was unsatisfactory.
“It has dragged on 18 years and it has taken so many twists and turns and never been resolved. It has turned into a monster that won’t go away,” he said.
“In the meantime, we’re living with the possibility that another slide could happen. We’re told with climate change and the intensive rain that peat slides are going to be more common.”
Attracta Uí Bhroin, environmental law officer with the Irish Environmental Network, said it was essential proper assessments were carried out even at this late stage.
“It is absolutely critical we get it right, not just for a technical legal requirement but because people’s lives could be at stake here,” she said.
“It also sends out a really bad signal in terms of our adherence to EU requirements and our ability to put things right when things go wrong.
“The lack of confidence and resistance that breeds in communities when big developments come their way is unhealthy and it’s not good for business either. Everybody loses.”
The Department of Housing and Planning said it could not comment on the substitute consent process but was working closely with the Department of Environment and Department of Public Expenditure “with respect to the resolution of the judgment and payment of the related fines”.
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