Business threatens to sue Irish Water

A shellfish harvesting company is warning it will seek millions of euro in compensation if Irish Water proceeds with the construction of a new water treatment plant in east Cork.

Co Waterford-based Woodstown Bay Shellfish claims to have “absolute legal ownership” of the rights to the Blackwater river bed in Youghal Harbour.

The Dunmore East-based company said it secured the rights under licence in 2002 from the Duke of Devonshire estate.

However, consultants for the state utility dispute the Duke of Devonshire’s claim of ownership of the water bed.

The shellfish company plans to seek recompense for lost investment and earnings if an €11m waste water treatment plant goes ahead in Youghal.

Managing director Paul Barlow said his Woodstown Bay company had invested €3.5m in a purpose-built boat in 2003 to farm mussels in Youghal.

The project, he said, was supported by both BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

Mr Barlow said the proposed new plant, in its present format, would infringe on his company’s interests.

He pledged to “do everything necessary” to protect the investment and to ensure the company’s substantial stocks are not interfered with or damaged in any way.

He said his company was never consulted during the plant’s planning process in 2008 and had not been aware of the then-Cork County Council planned project until 2013.

Mr Barlow claimed an environmental impact study, conducted in 2001 and attached to the current planning process, was “completely out of date and irrelevant”.

The plant is set to work in tandem with Youghal’s €18m new sewerage system, nearing completion.

Untreated raw sewage discharges recently saw one of the tourism-dependent town’s three beaches fail EPA water quality standards.

Irish Water, however, is awaiting the grant of a foreshore licence before construction of the planned treatment plant can commence.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly is due to rule on the application shortly, with the department still considering submissions.

Irish Water, it emerges, plans to install a main outfall pipe in the centre of the harbour, while retaining three other outfall pipes.

Mr Barlow says he supports the treatment plant in principle but wants the outfall pipes relocated “far away from the bay and beaches”. He also has fears Irish Water will not “meet EU shellfish and bathing standards”.

In a submission to the department, project engineers Atkins Ireland insisted the estuary was “not a designated shellfish production area”. Its submission also claims Woodstown Bay acquired its licence after the study had been approved and also disputes the Devonshire’s claim of ownership.

Atkins Ireland said the outfall pipe will not affect mussels, claiming there had been no mussel farming conducted for a number of years in the Blackwater. They say treated water would also “reduce coliform levels which will enhance the potential for shellfish harvesting should it resume”.

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