CONCERN Images like these above, taken on the same day last week in a stream that flows into Clew Bay adjacent to the harbour wall on the north side of Newport Quay, and in which the water level rises with each high tide (this is on the same side of the inlet as one of the tidal sewage holding tanks), have prompted concern amongst residents and led to the issue being raised by councillors. These pictures were taken yards from the open water of Clew Bay, at the mouth of the stream. These are not the pictures presented to Cllr Brendan Mulroy yesterday (Monday) by a resident of Newport.
THE situation in relation to sewage discharge in Newport Harbour has been branded ‘disgraceful’ by a County Councillor, who said that ‘the time for talking on the issue has passed and action has to start’.
Cathaoirleach of the West Mayo Municipal District, Cllr Brendan Mulroy, was speaking at a monthly meeting of the District’s elected representatives and council officials, held in Hotel Newport yesterday, when he cut loose about the situation regarding the lack of sewage treatment in the coastal town. He outlined that many residents had contacted him with concerns about sewage in the water on the north side of the Quay, and that he had witnessed it himself in recent weeks, as he works in Newport and spends a lot of time there. On his way into yesterday’s meeting he was handed a folio of pictures taken by a local resident, showing a scum and brown coloured discharge on the surface of the tide, and told all gathered, including a public gallery packed with Newport residents and community group representatives, that he would be a poor public representative if he sat on his hands on the matter. The Mayo News has also been contacted about this matter in recent weeks.
Following communication to The Mayo News and on foot of contact made by The Mayo News to statutory agencies, inspectors from Irish Water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Mayo County Council visited Newport last week. Irish Water are the national body with responsibility over wastewater services in Ireland, having taken over the role from councils in recent years. The EPA in turn issue licences for wastewater systems, and The Mayo News has learnt that the EPA issued a licence for the Newport wastewater system on November 20 2015. A senior EPA wastewater enforcement inspector told The Mayo News that the agency have ‘no principal concerns’ in relation to water quality’ in Newport Harbour.
A condition is attaching to the licence granted to operate the Newport wastewater system, which states that improvement and upgrade works must be undertaken on the Newport system by December 31 2018. This does not mean that Newport has to have a wastewater treatment plant by that time, but Mayo County Council’s Area Manager of the West Mayo Municipal District, Padraig Walsh, said at yesterday’s meeting that while the Newport wastewater system is not in the current national water services investment programme, work will start on the next phase ‘I presume fairly soon’.
“We would very much like to see it in the next phase and the case for that needs to be made in a convincing way to Irish Water to make that happen,” he said.
Councillor Michael Holmes urged local people at yesterday’s meeting to get more active on the matter, saying that while he is aware that the community in Newport has been looking for the system to be upgraded, ‘ye need to get more active’.
“We won’t [be able to] deliver it as councillors. I’ll tell you that, and neither will TD’s unless the local community is up in arms and taking a stand on it. It is huge money to get one of these plants and before you climb any ladder you have to have your foot on the bottom rung,” he said.
“Whatever the community wants to do we will support them 100 percent. I have highlighted this on numerous occasions, it is not going to happen overnight. It is crazy what is happening with the sewage, and particularly in context of planning rules. One family in Achill with two children we heard about earlier (see page 4) cannot have a septic tank below the house in case they pollute all of Achill, and yet you have sewage going into the sea in Newport. I rest my case.”
At present there are two separate wastewater collection networks in Newport on either side of the bay. This is categorised as a primary treatment of effluent system, which is the lowest on the treatment scale [but above direct discharge into the sea] and at odds with an EU Directive to provide, at a minimum, secondary treatment to wastewater.
Each of the networks in Newport discharges to a tidal holding tank that was originally designed to discharge to the bay on the ebbing tide. This is an old system and was designed when the town had a smaller population and was not as busy in terms of tourism as it is today. Clew Bay is designated as a Special Area of Conservation, and Newport Town is now the only urban centre around Clew Bay with a primary treatment system, or in lay mans terms, Newport has the most basic model of wastewater treatment around the fringes of the Bay, including Achill Island.
In a statement to The Mayo News, Irish Water stated that the current water quality in Newport Bay is assigned ‘Good’ status under the Water Framework Directive’.
Irish Water also examined the wastewater treatment process in Newport last Thursday on foot of a Mayo News inquiry. They reported: “The two holding tanks and areas adjacent to the outfall were reviewed and the location of the complaint area where the photograph [one which was sent to Irish Water and the EPA by The Mayo News] appears to have been taken was observed and examined. No evidence of deleterious matter was found at the location detailed. Irish Water will continue to monitor the area for a period of time under both high and low tide situations.”
Like Irish Water, the visit by the EPA to Newport last week found no sign of sewage or debris. They stated that the wastewater tanks and pumps are all functioning properly in Newport, but that the capacity there needs to be increased. They said that they would be keeping a close eye on the situation. When pressed for exact locations and times when water quality testing was carried out in Newport, their inspector undertook to seek out such information as it was not to hand. He did add that the water quality requirement at a designated bathing spot like a Blue Flag beach would be far more rigorous than in a location like Newport.
“We are on the same page as Irish Water on this, nobody wants to see anything impact on any area, and high rainfall can increase discharge levels, though with enough dilution [the size of Clew Bay in proportion to the level of discharge from the system] it has no effect on water quality. The bottom line with Newport is that the licence requires something to be done and in a timeframe.”
Councillor Mulroy acknowledged yesterday that he was highlighting a sensitive issue and sought to allay fears in that regard.
“I am very conscious that I am saying this in Newport, we had the same problem in Westport, and until it was highlighted and raised publicly it did not go away. I have no intention of creating a problem for any business in Newport or any aspect of tourism, but by sitting on my hands here and saying nothing I am doing a total disservice to the people of Newport. By making it public we can expect a process of action to begin. The time for talking has come and gone. Anyone who walks around the Quay in Newport will see the lack of investment, the lack of infrastructure and the lack of care and attention that a town centre in the heartland of the Greenway deserves. Tourists can see this with their own eyes and pretending they will not will only allow the problem to continue unchallenged. The talking has to stop and the action has to start.
“What is happening in Newport at the moment is not on. Earlier Cllr McNamanra spoke of a planning application and we were hit with the EPA and regulations as a reason for a refusal, on environmental grounds, and yet there is no difficulty with sewage flowing into the tide in Newport. I appreciate highlighting this will create a difficulty for some people, and that is not the intention, but the time for talking is over and the people, businesses and voluntary sector in Newport deserve more.
“I have dealt with a lot of people on this in the last number of weeks. I would be a poor representative if I didn’t raise it.”