A former toxic dump is set to open as a public park in the heart of Cork Harbour next year following one of the largest environmental clean-ups in the State's history.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, will visit Haulbowline Island this morning with County Mayor, Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy, and Cork County Council chief executive, Tim Lucey, to mark the substantial completion of the near €60m remediation project on the island’s East Tip to deal with the toxic legacy of more than 40-years of steel production at the former Irish Steel plant.
Since 2017, tens of thousands of tonnes of rock armour have been installed around the eastern end of the island, and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of topsoil transported on site, contoured and landscaped.
More than 200 trees and wildflowers have been planted, a new playing pitch built, and walkways, cycleways and several seating areas have been installed.
Some minor road works have yet to be completed but it is hoped the park will open to the public next May.
Friends of the Irish Environment, which has followed the saga closely since the Irish Examiner exposed over a decade ago the scale and extent of hazardous material dumped onsite, welcomed the news.
“It is a great achievement and it’s fantastic that this area has finally been dealt with,” spokesman Tony Lowes said.
“But there are a further 11-hectares around the site of the former steelworks buildings themselves, which showed higher contamination levels. I raised this when EU officials visited the site in 2011 and it led to the government agreeing to an ‘all-island approach’ to the cleanup. But that seems to have dropped off agenda. The Minister needs to clarify the plans for the rest of the site.”
The Irish Steel plant, which later became Ispat, operated on the island, alongside the Irish Naval Service headquarters, from 1939 until its closure in 2001.
In 2008, the Irish Examiner reported how clean-up contractors accused the then government of trying to cover up the scale of the problem by ordering the 'capping' of lagoons containing the waste rather than remove the estimated 500,000 tonnes of potentially lethal material. Subsequent reports found some of the toxins, such as chromium, in and around the dump site were not at levels considered dangerous to humans, and therefore posed no identifiable threat to local residents.
The Government approved a clean-up in 2011, before the then Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, chaired a task-force which saw Cork County Council acting as agents for the supervision and execution of the remediation works.