The decision on the 13-hectare East Tip on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour — next to the site of the former Irish Steel/Irish Ispat plant — was welcomed yesterday by Agriculture and Marine Minister Simon Coveney, who has chaired a multi-agency group tasked with overseeing the clean-up.
“This was a big step necessary to convince people that this clean-up will happen,” he said.
The decision came with several conditions, including a direction that a qualified and experienced marine mammal observer will be appointed to oversee how noise from piling operations affects such animals within a one-kilometre monitoring zone. The board also directed that acoustic devices not be used to deter marine mammals from entering the monitoring zone, and that the marine life will not be “harassed or chased from the area”, but allowed to leave of its own accord.
The board said, subject to compliance with its conditions and the implementation of certain mitigation measures, the remediation would not have significant effects on the integrity of several environmentally-sensitive sites in the area.
“It is considered that, subject to compliance with the conditions, the proposed development would protect the environment and amenities of Cork Harbour, would enhance the qualities of the environment and amenities of the area, and would result in the stabilisation of a waste site for which remediation is required,” the board’s ruling said.
A decision from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on whether or not to grant a waste licence for the dump is expected in weeks.
Mr Coveney said the granting of the licence would clear the way for the long-awaited remediation to proceed.
Arup Engineers has been appointed to conduct a detailed site assessment which will be used to draft a management plan for the construction phase. That work is expected to take six months, with hopes that remediation on the island will start before the end of the year, and take up to two years to complete.
The East Tip contains an estimated 500,000 tonnes of slag — byproducts of the steel-making process — including the deadly carcinogen, chromium 6, and a number of heavy metals.
The Irish Examiner highlighted the full extent of the toxic dump scandal in June 2008 after an environmental consultant blew the whistle. After years of surveys and reports on the site, the government was forced to tackle the issue after the European Commission threatened hefty fines if it did not take action to secure the site and make it safe.
In 2011, Mr Coveney agreed to chair an inter-agency taskforce, involving government departments, the EPA and Cork County Council, to draft a remediation plan.
It resulted in the government approving a €40m rolling package to fund the clean-up and, last October, Cork County Council, on behalf of the minister, lodged a planning application with the planning appeals board, under the Strategic Infrastructure Bill process, seeking permission for the project.
It will include the demolition of several buildings and structures, the re-profiling of the site, the construction of a engineered perimeter structure and an engineered capping system with surface water drainage system, and the provision of a public park, including grassland, wetland, paths, a 54-space car park, bicycle parking area, bird-viewing areas, bird-roosting ledge, and landscaping works. There are also plans for the provision of a playing pitch to replace the existing Irish Naval Service facility, access road and footpath improvements.
Works are already underway on the bridge to Haulbowline Island to facilitate construction traffic. A masterplan for that part of Cork Harbour, to include the naval base, Spike Island, the National Maritime College of Ireland, and the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC) campus is also being drawn up to capitalise on the area’s full tourism potential.
Picture: An artist's aerial impression of Cork Harbour, including Spike Island and Haulbowline. www.lauramellett.com