Former Cork toxic dump resembling a 'lunar landscape' transformed into park

Former Cork toxic dump resembling a 'lunar landscape' transformed into park
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, joined by Chief Executive of Cork County Council Tim Lucey (L) and Cormac O'Suilleabhain, Senior Engineer Cork County Council (C) at Haulbowline Island today. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision.

A toxic dump which resembled a "lunar landscape" twelve months ago has now been transformed into a public park which will officially open to the public in May of next year.

The 22-acre toxic dump at Haulbowline Island in Co Cork was formerly the site for Irish Ispat/Irish Steel. Its revamp involved one of the biggest environmental works in the history of the State.

The year-long works required the manpower of up to sixty people at its peak. The area had been used for waste disposal for decades with slag and steel metal from the steelworks deposited on the site from the 1960s to 2001.

From the period in the 1960s to the closure of the steel plant an estimated 650,000 cubic metres of steel waste was dumped on Haulbowline Island.

The €60 million remediation project involved installing tens of thousands of rock armour around the island and the placing of hundreds and thousands of tonnes of topsoil on to the site.

It was also contoured and landscaped. New playing pitches have been installed in addition to walkways and cycleways.

Seating areas are in situ and the transformation has involved the planting of two hundred trees, woodland mix planting, native mix planting and wildflower areas.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed has described as "absolutely extraordinary" the developments at the site.

Haulbowline Island before the renovation.
Haulbowline Island before the renovation.

Speaking at the site of the former Irish Steel/Irish Ispat site in Haulbowline Island in Co Cork today Minister Creed said the seismic change in the site was "very impressive.

I was here twelve months ago and it was like a lunar landscape. We actually had to put special gowns on because of the contamination that was being dealt with locally. I must say what has been done here really looks fantastic - it is very impressive.

The benefits of these works will resonate with the near neighbours and surrounding areas of Haulbowline Island for generations to come."

Mr Creed paid tribute to the principal contractor PJ Hegarty & Sons Ltd, the officials in his Department involved and the Cork County Council project team, for delivering such impressive results.

County Lord Mayor Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy said the overall project started onsite seven years ago and involved "painstaking work."

"It was a really terrible ecological and environmental blight on the harbour. On the 4th of May of next year it will be completely finished and open to the public.

"It is great to be able to look over at Spike Island here and it is fantastic to have this amenity. The site is going the full 360 and becoming an amenity when it was such a blight.

"Haulbowline Island is hugely important from both a local and national perspective. We have come a long way with this and ultimately, the Council want to see this site fulfil its potential to become a fantastic park for the people of Cork which will also offer another jewel in the crown for Cork tourism.”

The Chief Executive of Cork County Council Tim Lucey said the remediation of the former East Tip involved a tremendous amount of work and many years of waiting.

But the result is clear to see. In the future, Haulbowline Island Recreational Park will be an enormous benefit to local communities and will join the ever increasing number of amenities within Cork Harbour.

Steelmaking ended at the plant in 2001 and the steel mill was dismantled.

In January 2016, Tanaiste Simon Coveney promised an "all island approach" to the clean up of contaminated waste left by Irish Steel.

The EU had threatened legal action against Ireland under the waste directive. The steelworks onsite operated between 1939 and 2001 and left behind hazardous waste particularly in an area extending eastwards from the naval

The Government approved a proposal to enable the clean-up of the East Tip on Haulbowline Island in 2011.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was appointed to lead the project on behalf of Government and commissioned Cork County Council to act as agents for the supervision and execution of the remediation works.

Over the course of the intervening period the Council and the Department have overseen a series of works, starting out with upgrades to the bridge and road infrastructure to facilitate construction traffic, and the extensive works on the former East Tip site itself commenced in October 2017.

The remediation of the East Tip has involved 47,000 tonnes of rock armour material brought onto the site to protect the shoreline and a further 180,000 tonnes of subsoil and 37,000 tonnes of topsoil brought onto the site to bring the history of exposed waste on the site to a close.

The new park is on the East side of Haulbowline whilst the western section is occupied by the Naval Service.

Almost 400 people were employed at Irish Steel/Irish Ispat until it closed in 2001.

Famed campaigner Erin Brokovich was among those who called for the site to be cleaned over the years owing to the potential presence of chromium VI there -- the same chemical which had caused the contamination of drinking water in the campaign she hit the headlines for several years ago.

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