Residents in the east Cork townland of East Ferry, near Midleton have expressed concerns that Dairygold built 14 km of pipeline to carry treated effluent from a cheese processing plant to their local harbour prior to obtaining an EPA licence to discharge it.
However Dairygold has said it is “normal practice to undertake construction on foot of planning approval” while applying for an operational licence simultaneously.
The issue arose during a protest against the proposed discharges from the company’s new €120m factory at Mogeely.
Amongst those protesting was local resident Damien McGovern, founder of Compliance and Risks Ltd, whose 100-strong workforce “helps multi-national companies worldwide to comply with environmental standards”.
Mr McGovern said proceeding with the pipeline prior to obtaining the licence “raises suspicions that do not engender confidence in the political process”.
The joint venture between Dairygold Co-Operative Society Ltd and Norwegian dairy subsidiary TINE Ireland Ltd to produce Jarlsberg cheese for export is expected to provide 67 jobs.
Objectors have said they do not oppose the plant but claim Dairygold does not understand the harbour and has seriously underestimated its capability to handle up to four million litres of treated fats, oil and grease (known as FOG) annually.
They fear the loss of a leisure facility and also say nearby protected wildlife are endangered.
They also challenge Dairygold’s insistence that the ebbing tides will quickly wash the treated waste from the harbour into the sea.
“There is absolutely no way it will be carried out of the harbour within weeks, let alone a day," said protest organiser Debbie Hayes.
Mr McGovern added: “I sail a small boat in the harbour and literally splash through sewerage in a small punt to get to it. The effluent will make it more sticky and prone to sticking to the rocks."
Environmental scientist Allan Navratil accused Dairygold of perpetuating “a negative externality”, by undertaking “a cheapskate job”.
"If it was treating the waste properly in the first instance it could go back into the groundwater," he said.
Dairygold says it is “fully aware of the importance of environmental sustainability” and that the issue of discharges has been fully examined by An Bord Pleanála.” The company adds that it has “invested €4.5 million” in ensuring the waste “will have no adverse impact on the receiving waters”, as contained in its EIS.