A city is poised to draw down more than €20m in government grants which have been withheld since the completion, eight years ago, of one of the biggest environmental engineering projects in the history of the State.
City manager Tim Lucey has confirmed his officials have submitted all the relevant claim forms required by the Department of the Environment to allow it process grants due for work done on the €200m Cork Main Drainage Scheme.
Mr Lucey said the value of the claims is between €23m and €24m, and that there are almost “daily discussions” with department officials on the matter. “I expect significant movement on this issue in 2013,” he said.
Confirmation the saga is coming to an end emerged during a debate on the auditor’s report on the council’s books for 2011.
The auditor said the council was carrying a €24m deficit linked to the drainage scheme, which began construction 15 years ago.
The massive project was designed to provide the city with a new sewerage network, pumping stations, deep water siphons, and a modern-day wastewater treatment plant to meet strict EU guidelines on water quality.
It has removed an estimated 59m litres of wastewater and raw sewage, which was being discharged into the River Lee every day, by transporting it to a specially built treatment plant in Little Island.
The work, under 22 separate contracts, began in 1998, with major excavations beginning on St Patrick’s St in Apr 1999.
Over the next four years, almost every city centre street was dug up, and a sealed 38,000m network of foul sewerage pipes was laid and connected to each property. Special tunnelling techniques were used in narrow streets.
Two huge pipes towed from Norway were laid underwater at Lough Mahon — spanning a distance of 4km — to take sewage from the city to the new treatment plant.
The entire scheme, which officially ended in 2005, caused huge disruption but has been credited with restoring the water quality in the River Lee and reducing the extent of flooding in the city centre.
The scheme was funded by a combination of EU and government funding, as well as contributions from the city’s non-domestic rate payers, under the polluter pays principle.
However, some of the grants were never paid out because the final cost of the project was never established as protracted negotiations between the council and various contractors continued.
An audit of the council’s books for 2007 showed the city was carrying a debt of €40.7m because a range of financial and contractual issues linked to the scheme remained unresolved.
The 2008 audit revealed that some contractors who worked on the scheme lodged claims for an extra €140m for their work.
The council defended all the claims and, following arbitration, was successful in each case, finally settling the disputes at €18.34m.
The audit detailed the figures involved in seven disputed contracts but didn’t name the contractors involved.
The largest claim for €27.8m was reduced to €5.55m following arbitration. The second largest disputed claim of €24.7m was, following arbitration, reduced to €1.95m.
Another massive disputed claim for just over €24m was reduced to nil following arbitration.
Cllr Jim Corr (FG), who has consistently called for the contracts to be finalised, welcomed news that an end was finally in sight.
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