I attended a public meeting last week (11th May 2018) where a local committee Gort Bio Gas Concern Group organised a public meeting to raise awareness of the impact of a proposed biogas plant in Gort. The committee gave a professional presentation about their concerned and as people started to comment, the following was a recurring evolution of thought.
- Inital Optimism : When I first heard about the Biogas and renewable energy plant I thought – that’s interesting and positive and maybe it will be good for Gort and South Galway
- Disbelief : Now that I’ve heard the facts – this would be a disaster!
- Anger: Why is this being pushed into Gort! This is not the vision I have for Gort!
That word stuck in my head – Vision; Many people mentioned it directly or alluded to it and it was clear that people have a vision of a better Gort . And it was clear that people are passionate about that vision – because when it was threatened – There was a strong defense!
Let’s quickly explore the threat!
The Biogas Plant
To put it simply the proposed Gort BioGas Plant is a mega plant for producing BioGas (CO2 and methane) and fertilizer from animal manure and other waste. It’s a renewable energy and investing in projects such as these will help us meet our EU environmental targets. Heavy Goods vehicles (HGV)/Tankers will ferry in animal manure and other waste and ferry out C02 and Methane)
The key issues with the proposed plant is:
- Its scale and that fact that these HGVS will have to come into the town to deliver and distribute the material
- The lack of alignment with Gort Local Area Plan
- The health safety and Environment Impact of the plant
- An amateurish Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR)
This is a mega-plant – It covers over 22 acres. It will have its own unique smell and Gort will get its first flame plume and it will be noisy. The stacks are 22m high and with a flame, it will be close to height of Gort Church!
There will be 12 big tanks to hold the biogas materials again to scale:
This plant would be one of the biggest of its kind in Ireland – making Gort the Slurry Capital of Ireland!
The proposed plant is just 10m for Gort River which essentially connects to the key south Galway natural parks, environments, Special Areas of Conservation(5) and Specially protected areas (2)
The plant will down the Kinincha road which means that HGVs will be coming in through the town. Either from Motorway or Loughrea Rd, Ennis Rd or Tubber Rd.
- This plant will operate 24/7 for 50 weeks of the year and will be closed for a 2 week maintenance period.
- When fully operational will have 20 staff.
- Material will be delivered/distributed from 7am to 6pm, 7 days a week.
Over 95,000 tonnes of slurry and waste will be delivered and over 150,000 tonnes of digestive (fertiliser) will be distributed. CO2 and biomethane will also need to be distributed. This following table outlines the estimated daily maximum HGV loads.
If you were standing a LIDL throughout the day then a HGV/Tanker would pass you 242 (121*2) times a day on average one every 2 minutes 43 seconds.
That’s the average and unfortunately you can’t plan for even traffic so we can assume that at some parts of the day – it’s a truck a minute! Also the numbers are not rules they are estimates and the estimates can be wrong.
The plan assumes (incorrectly) that traffic will come in off the motorway and avoid centre of town. For instance, take a journey from a pig farm in Tipperary (Borris Pedigree Pigs Ltd, Inane Roscrea Co. Tipperary)
The fastest time shown is 1 hr 20 minutes but is 136km. The shortest route (secondary routes) is 1hr 22 minutes but is only 83.8km from the proposed site so in commercial terms this could be the most efficient and will bring the HGV through Gort Town Centre
- Pigs Ireland, Dunsallagh West Miltown Malbay V95 W0F2 Co. Clare : Shortest route = 53 km direct to Crowe St
- Blueball Pig Farm, Tullamore co. Offaly : Shortest Route 104km direct to Crowe Street (From Loughrea road) -132km by motorway
- Sharragh Pig Farm, Sharragh Co Tipperary: 63km, 1hr 5mins.
The road through Derrybrien to could become the Slurry Super Highway.
Road Safety Audit
As part of the impact assessment, a road safety audit has to be completed (Traffic counts, number of previous collisions etc) – however, the report is factually incorrect. It states that only one collision resulting in a minor injury was reported on the R380 (Formally N18) in 2007. However a 30 second check (Thank to Bryan Brennan on the tip!) on the actual database referenced http://www.rsa.ie/RSA/Road-Safety/Our-Research/Collision-Statistics/Ireland-Road-Collisions/ tells a different story with just on the R380
- 1 collision with 1 Fatality
- 2 collisions with 3 serious casualties
- 11 Collisions with minor accidents
And these are supposed to be the experts that are compiling these reports!
Lack of Alignment with Gort Local Area Plan
Galway County Council have developed the Gort Local Area Plan (LAP) 2013-2019, a visionary document that outlines a strategy for development ( http://www.galway.ie/en/media/Gort%20Local%20Area%20Plan%202013-2019.pdf) . It is a land use plan and overall strategy for the development of Gort over the period 2013-2019. In general, it helps to guide the local authority on how to plan for suggested form of development to ensure it will be compatible with the policies and objectives for the specific zones.
The proposed site is not in the Local Area Plan and is currently zoned for agricultural use and therefore it not compatible with the LAP.
The site however does have an impact on Gort’s objectives as it brings traffic to within 160m of the town centre and impacts directly on objectives. The following is a reasonable assessment on how the proposed Biogas plant impacts the Gort LAP Strategy.
Trampling over the plan e.g. Tourism
THe LAP States
“Tourism is an important element of Gort‟s local economy and is a sector that has the potential for further growth. The cultural, built and natural heritage of the town and significant local tourist amenities such as Coole Park, Thoor Ballylee, Kilmacduagh monastic settlement and the town‟s proximity to the Burren are important tourist attractions and opportunities for further tourism development, which in turn can help to ensure the appropriate management and protection of Gort‟s local heritage and amenities.”
And it rightly captures this as part of the Economic Objective ED4:
Tourism Development (refer to Maps 2A/2B) Encourage and facilitate the sustainable development of the tourism potential of Gort and its environs in a manner that respects, builds on, protects and enhances the cultural, built and natural heritage of the town and the local amenities within the Plan Area. Key projects and initiatives that will be supported will include:
- Support the sustainable development of a river walkway and a linear park including recreational facilities and activities that will benefit the local community and visitors to the area and enhance the tourism infrastructure in an environmentally sustainable manner that recognises the Water Framework Directive, water quality and Natura 2000 conservation management objectives for the Coole-Garryland Complex and associated protected species including otter and bat species.
- Investigate the provision of a tourist/information centre within the town centre.
Objective TI 24– Walkways (refer to Specific Objectives Maps 2A/2B) Provide a walkway along the Cannahowna/Gort River including the Kinincha and Pound Road in a sustainable manner where possible. Regard should be had to the protection of Otters and Otter breeding sites and resting places along the proposed river walk.
The maps show a Riverwalk titled ‘Provide a walkway along the Kinincha and Pound Road’
Brilliant plan! …. but why are we then looking at slapping a massive Biogas plant there – this completely contradicts the objectives!
Oh and here are two more to note:
- Objective TI4 – Walking : Facilitate the improvement of the pedestrian environment and network so that it is safe and accessible to all through the provision of the necessary infrastructure such as footpaths, lighting, pedestrian crossings, traffic calmed streets etc. New developments shall promote and prioritise walking, shall be permeable, adequately linked and connected to neighbouring areas, the town centre and train station, recreational, educational and employment destinations and shall adhere to the principles contained within the national policy document Smarter Travel: A Sustainable Transport Future – A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 (and any updated/superseding document). Galway County Council will ensure that new lighting in sensitive areas, such as close to water-bodies or stands of broadleaved trees, will be sensitively designed so as to avoid impacts on foraging bats and other nocturnal wildlife. “
Comment : Proposed Biogas plant is a new development that will not promote or prioritise walking. It will detract from it and as such is at odds with this objective.
- Objective TI5 – Cycling Facilitate the improvement of the cycling environment and network so that it is safe and accessible through adequate traffic management and the provision of the necessary infrastructure, such as surface treatment, junction treatment, traffic calmed streets, cycle track/s, cycle lane/s, lighting, road crossings, etc. New developments shall promote and prioritise cycling, shall be permeable, adequately linked and connected to neighbouring areas, the town centre and train station, recreational, educational and employment destinations and shall adhere to the principles contained within the national policy documents Smarter Travel: A Sustainable Transport Future – A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 and the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009-2020 (and any updated/superseding documents).
Comment : Proposed Biogas plant is a new development that will not promote or prioritise cycling. It will detract from it and as such is at odds with this objective
Health , Safety and Environment Impact
A plant this size handles a significant amount of bio-hazardous waste – cattle slurry – pig slurry (phew!) and other waste – you can dream the worst case scenario here – from mouldy bread to blood! It also produces Hydrogen Sulphide, Ammonia and other toxic substances which are extremely noxious. These can contaminate the air and be potentially washed into the water-courses. Some of the dangers are explained here.
Explosions : Methane, approximately 60% of biogas, forms explosive mixtures in air. If biogas is diluted between 10% and 30% with air, there is an explosion hazard.
Asphyxiation : Asphyxiation from biogas is a concern in an enclosed space where manure is stored. Even open-topped manure pits can generate methane at a sufficient rate to push out the air above the manure and render the space oxygen-deficient. Guidelines are never enter a facility where manure is stored or where there is a suspected biogas leak as natural ventilation cannot be trusted to dilute the explosion hazard sufficiently.
Disease : Animal manure contains bacteria, viruses and, possibly, parasites. It is recommended to keep the digester facility clean to reduce disease hazards as well as the spread of odors and fly populations in the digester facility.
An estimated 242 HGV one-way journeys will be made through Gort in an 11 hour period and the Impact assessment report (EIAR) states under ‘Traffic and transport’ section “no obvious preliminary issues identified” – Not, I’m not making this up – it actually says that!
This will no doubt be the nail in the coffin of this plan. The proposed plant is just 10m from Gort river and if you’ve read report on the SouthGalwayFlood blog it means that this is directly connected with Kiltartan river, Coole Park, Caherglassaun, Cahermore and Galway bay! Their EIAR does not address this correctly.
It even quotes if there was an accident that “any such events, although extremely unlikely, would result in impacts … that have the potential to be catastrophic!”
These type of impact assessments have been wrong before – South Galway has already suffered an environmental disaster associated with clean renewable energy with the Derrybrien Windfarm landslide, and this has the potential to be much worse than that!
To be clear – the site itself has never flooded, however, the only access road to the proposed development has a history of flooding. According to the Gort CFRAM report ‘the extent of the 2009 flooding was primarily located with the two main roads affected being Crowe Street and Kinincha Road. The Kinincha Road also flooded in 2009 and is modelled as flooding slightly in the 10% design event and much more extensively in larger design events.‘
The EIAR states that there is potential for the site to be completely severed based on CFRAM report. However the CFRAM report also states on its calculations….
- To reduce uncertainty a model incorporating groundwater and surface flows may be required, however this would present significant technical challenges and is beyond the scope of the current work.
- How well this translates from the calibration to design events is unknown, leading to low confidence in the design event flood outlines downstream of Gort Bridge.
And yes, the Biogas Plant is downstream of Gort. In other words the flooding estimate are useless without the proper modelling.
These stated limitations triggers the precautionary principle under which states there must be clear impact assessment and if you can’t prove there is no impact, assume there is. Therefore this plan unacceptable.
Where to start – this is full of mistakes, misguidance, omissions, incorrect assumptions and just bad research.
- There is a lot of incorrect detail on SACs, SPAS and connectivity to the site. They leave out some SPAs/SACs
- Traffic – They just analysed traffic on 1 day – Some Tue in Feb I think! The report contradicts itself on traffic numbers.
- They make incorrect assumptions around use of M18 as being the most efficient way to deliver foodstuffs.
- The journey times and durations are incorrect
- Incorrect assumptions made on flooding on the back of the CFRAM report
- Based on the above factors the Site justification is flawed
- Incorrect staffing levels
- It assumes ‘former activity at the site’ was ok (meat plant) and compares it favorably against this although it’s 5 times bigger with 20x more traffic.
- It doesn’t mention alignment with Gort Local Area plan
Finally we get to our public representatives! Oh – this is a strange one. For whatever reasons, our County Councillors have come out vehemently in support of this or are sitting on the fence. According to Councillor Gerry Finnerty, he reported in the Connacht Tribune:
“There is very little negativity to this proposal in Gort. As far as I am concerned it is a very acceptable and safe development for the town that would provide a major economic boost. It is a major investment in the town and there are no major objections to it in Gort.
He also stated on the public information night that he talked to lots of people about this.
One quote back on this was “Very sad local reps did not inform people..listen to people and had a word”
This proposed biogas plant makes toilet-paper of the Gort Local Area Plan so why are our County Councillors not at least coming out in defence of it – but rather appear mildly or full supportive of it? Am I missing something?
I’m not here to beat up on our County Councillors but while they are in focus it would be interesting to get an update on how far Galway County Council is with its 2013-2019 objective TI24 – The proposed riverwalk? Please ask them if you see them 🙂
I would like to thank our real public representatives on the night – the Gort Biogas concerned citizens committee – (Karen O Neill, Kieran O Donnell, Bryan Brennan, Pierce Counahan, Brent Mostert) ye did a great job bring the awareness of this potential disaster to light.
What next ?
Nothing else for it .. Please raise objections in writing to Galway County Council before 29th May! There is a clinic on objecting in Gort this evening 7-9 in Sullivans hotel.
Not our vision
A final point is that many people in that public meeting town indicated that Gort as part of a South Galway Slurry Centre is not the vision that many people have for South Galway.
We live in a beautiful area in South Galway, we have great people in Gort and with the right combined vision – there is huge potential to make Gort an even more wonderful place to live! We also have to protect it from this type of nonsense.