‘AN ecological disaster waiting to happen’ is how oyster fishermen in Belmullet described the decision to locate the outflow pipe from the proposed sewerage treatment plant in Blacksod Bay.
The decision by Mayo County Council to locate the proposed Belmullet Sewerage Scheme Treatment Plant at Corclough East was met with disappointment and anger by oyster fishermen and local residents who believe it is in the wrong location and the risks of pollution are too high.
The Part 8 planning application was formally proposed and seconded at yesterday’s (Monday) monthly meeting of the Council after it had earlier been ratified at local level. Due to a mark of respect to the late PJ Morley, standing orders at the meeting were adjourned and there was no formal discussion which disappointed fishermen and residents who travelled from Belmullet.
There main cause for concern centres around the decision to locate the outflow pipe in Blacksod Bay which is a Special Area of Conservation and they fear it will damage the quality of the water.
Blacksod Bay is currently graded a Category A location for oyster breeding because of the high quality of the water which means that oysters can be harvested and sold directly for human consumption without having to be treated. Only 25 per cent of the Irish coastline has a high quality of water to qualify for Category A status.
Eddie O’Toole, the secretary of the North Mayo Oyster Development Co-operative Society explained that the outflow pipe from the plant was going into the middle of the native oyster beds and he cannot understand the logic behind locating the effluent pipe in the bay and risk spoiling the water quality.
“The plant will have an emergency overflow pipe and we are led to believe that if anything goes wrong with it, the pipe will be opened up to allow raw sewerage into the bay. We have the best water quality and all that will be at risk. Why are they risking a perfectly clean bay?” he asked.
The Blacksod Bay Protection Association which represents a large number of residents living in the Corclough and Toorglass areas of Belmullet have expressed their disappointment that the plant is to go ahead in its current location.
In a statement issued last week, the group say they feel let down and deceived by the planning process and do not believe the people of the community should be forced to endure the consequences of having such a plant located next to their homes.
“We had zero communication with anyone and feel so hurt and disgusted with the councillors and the Council. Many of the councillors admitted the location is unsuitable but still voted for it. Each household sent in submissions and they didn’t bother to come back to us. There were genuine concerns raised and we got no reply back and absolute zero feedback. We feel let down big time,” a spokesperson told The Mayo News.
Local councillors voted to go ahead with the €5million plant in its current location despite having reservations on the location. The group say they do not dispute the need for a sewerage system for Belmullet but they feel the site is in the wrong location and they submitted a number of recent photographs of the proposed site which showed it is flooded and prone to flooding.
The spokesperson said the bay is a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protected Area and do not believe the Council’s own environmental assessment of the location is accurate.
The group also raised concerns regarding the risk of airborne bacteria to the public health from the exposed tanks and the affect of odour from the tank. They say that residents living near the Geesala sewerage treatment plant cannot open their doors because of the odour of raw sewerage. They also denied their main concerns were that their homes were not to be connected to the system.
Mr O’Toole also said there is not a ‘huge’ flow of water through Blacksod Bay and does not believe there is a sufficient water flow to dilute and disperse the flow from the treatment plant.
The EPA are due to give their decision later in the year on whether to grant a licence and if they do, Eddie told The Mayo News the fishermen will not be taking the decision lightly.
“If the EPA give a licence our livelihood could be affected and we will have to consider our position. But you can take it from me that we will not be sitting back and we have enough members to allow us to explore all avenues available to us, the legal route included,” he said.
The fear among the fishermen is that if the treatment plant goes ahead in the proposed location, the chemicals used in the plant will mean the water quality will be reduced to Category B status. This will mean the shellfish will not be collected for direct human consumption and the demand and price for their product will fall.
Eddie said oyster fishing was extremely important for the local economy with 147 members in the co-op harvesting an annual average of 80 tonnes with a yearly income in the region of €320,000. He says this is an average of €2,000 per boat and because the harvesting takes place in November and December, it is a welcome supplementary income for families before Christmas. He said the fishermen may sue the council if the plant affects the water and their livelihood.
The native oyster in Blacksod is considered a high quality product, exported all over Europe, and is in demand because of its Category A status. Eddie explained that he believes the Council’s decision is in breach of the EU’s Shellfish Directive and they may go to Europe to block the building of the plant.
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