Environmental officer incensed at remarks by Inland Fisheries Ireland

An environmental health and safety officer for one of the three contracted firms being prosecuted for an alleged fish kill has said staff were incensed by an Inland Fisheries Ireland description of their actions as “panicked”.

Byrne Looby Partners Water Services Ltd, Rivus Ltd, and Wills Bros Ltd are being prosecuted by Inland Fisheries Ireland over an alleged incident on May 10, 2017, during work on the Bandon flood relief scheme in Co Cork.

The project was described in court as the biggest of its kind currently being undertaken in Europe.

All three companies face two charges under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 as amended, of injuring or disturbing a spawning bed, bank of shallow where the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or ells may be, and of injuring or disturbing the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or eels.

All three companies deny the charges, with day two of the hearing taking place yesterday in Bandon District Court, more than two months after the prosecution had put forward its case.

Judge Mary Dorgan had already heard that two Inland Fisheries Ireland officers observed how a new haul road used for the project crossing the river had on May 10 last created at a spot called Rough Hole a separate pool of water away from the main river, and that when they observed the scene at 3.30pm this area appeared to have been “dewatered”.

Evidence already heard by the judge alleged as many as 400 fish may have been killed, although this was contested amid claims that the actual number of fish killed might have been less than a quarter of that figure.

Giving evidence for the defence, Peter Quigley, environmental health and safety officer with Wills Bros, said the companies were contracted to do the work by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and that it involved excavating and then reinstating and rehabilitating the river bank.

He told the judge that as part of this, it had to effectively create an artificial river bed while also regulating the flow of the river so that about 30% to 40% of its width could facilitate the flow of fish in areas that were being worked on.

“The main criteria is the passage of fish,” he said. The court had previously heard a claim that on May 10 last there seemed to have been a “panicked” response to what had occurred, with the word “frantic” also used.

“We were quite incensed by that description,” Mr Quigley said.

Folders of weekly data covering water quality and charting the density of material in the water were produced, but Inland Fisheries Ireland said it had not seen these reports.

Inland Fisheries Ireland then said it wanted to see the baseline data, gathered by ecologists, which might show any changes in the water composition and suspended matter content in the river on May 10 last year and in the days around that date.

Mr Quigley told Judge Dorgan that data was compiled on a weekly basis and levels checked against a baseline figure, and so “peaks and troughs over one period of time is not relevant”.

Judge Dorgan directed the exchange of copies of the documents to all parties from the start of operations through May last year and directed Rivus to furnish daily figures regarding water quality as measured by ecologists for the first 14 days of the project last year.

Legal representatives for the defendants stressed the desire to have the case finalised, with Tom Power, counsel for Wills Bros, saying his clients are back as of May 1 doing contracted work on the river while simultaneously being the subject of a criminal prosecution for conducting the same work on a date last year, referencing the charge which involves disturbing of river beds.

“The consequences for this company are very severe,” he said.

Judge Dorgan said: “I am dealing with this matter the best way this court can.” It will be mentioned in court on May 17 when the next day for hearing will be set.

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