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26 November 1998 Edition

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Dumping the problem

Bantry has been earmarked for a dump. Local people want to know why. By Roisin de Rossa

Two weeks ago residents of the quiet seaside town of Bantry protested outside the County Council office. They symbolically burned rubbish in the main square demonstrating their anger at a plan, supported by Cork County Councillors, to build a Solid Waste Transfer Station right beside the town on the Ropewalk, within 30 yards of peoples' houses.

Cork, like most other counties in Ireland, is in a mad race to find a place to put its rubbish. To date the county has relied on dumps - `landfill sites' - and its annual half a million tons of garbage (excluding agricultural waste) goes to nine landfill sites. Four of these are to be shut by next March. The Kinsale Road site, which takes some 300,000 tons of the city's garbage, is not expected to last more than two or three years.

Ireland is twenty years behind the EU on its use of landfill sites, which have been widely condemned as pollutants, health hazards and eyesores. Last October, Environment Minister Noel Dempsey announced yet another plan, this time with 15 year waste disposal targets, to bring Ireland into line with EU waste management. These targets rely on the three R's of Reducing, Recycling, and Re-using waste, and aim to cut the use of landfills from taking over 90% of rubbish to around 60%.

This will mean collection points for garbage all over the country, where waste can be `compacted' into bales (to fit into a smaller space) with `thermal treatment' (which, with present technology, means incineration). These `stations' will be run in conjunction with a few `super landfill' dumps for the whole country. The residual rubbish from the `transit stations' will pile into these super dumps.- which have yet to be located.

Minister Dempsey assigned what he called the `pivotal role' to implementing all of this to the municipal authorities, and the Cork County Councillors all thought a ``Waste Transfer Station'' for Bantry was a great idea, in advance of any consultation, involvement of the people, still less provision to fund separate collections for different types of waste, or downstream recycling.

``The first I heard of the plan was from a neighbour. No one thought to come and talk to us,`` says Jud Weidner of the Ropewalk Residents Association. The council commissioned a report from Tobin Environmental Services, in Ballsbridge, but, Jud says, ``they never even came near us. None of us. Yet there are people living here, right next door to where they intend to have the rubbish dump of West Cork. They never spoke to one of us. It was a `Desk Report', the Council said.''

Yet it was only last June that the Government formally signed up to the international convention on citizens' environmental rights, which guarantees citizens the right to information on their environment and the right to participate in decision making. Cork County Councillors however seem to have been happy to vote their approval, in the absence of any consultation whatsoever.

Bantry Solid Waste Transfer Station is the first of five planned for West Cork. The Tobin Study announced that the next one is for Clonakilty, which needs to be ready for operation by the time the Benduff Landfill closes, at the start of 2001.

The proposal talks about not only compacting and baling rubbish trucked into the station, but of incinerating the dry fraction in order ``to facilitate energy recovery and to further reduce the quantities disposed to landfill.''

``They are quite clearly planning to build an incinerator right here in our town,'' says Sinn Fein's Anne O'Leary, one of the Bantry Town's Commissioners.

``There was a general understanding in the town that if we didn't agree to the Ropewalk site, then there were other possible sites in the town, like Slip, Rennroue, Shaskin, Shandrun under consideration. It was scaremongering, to encourage people to back the plan for fear they'd get a `civic amenity' right on their own doorsteps. When Assistant County Manager, Mr Deasy, came over to answer our questions on the proposal, I asked him who picked out the site, and he confirmed that it was the County Council. No other area was under serious consideration. Apart from any other reason the council owns the 7.5 acre site,'' Anne O'Leary says.

``The Report itself is just full of holes,'' says Jud Weidner. ``They don't even observe their own criteria. They say that siting because of noise, refuse, rats and obnoxious odours, should be well away from housing, yet people live only 20 and 30 yards away from the proposed site. They say that a site near to heavy industry would be preferable to one near light industry, yet this site is part of a light industry Enterprise centre, where some 200 people work. A new company, Schaefer Electronics, which is considering coming to the site, is now expressing serious concern,'' Jud explains.

The site is 300 yards away from Bantry House, which is a well known beauty spot and tourist attraction. (The house belonged to the English ascendancy in the form of Shelswell White, but it was never burnt out because, local history has it, their wives were nice to the people in famine times.) Famous gardens lie below the warehouse in which the municipal waste of West Cork is to be compacted and stored.

The Report proposes that ``the washing down of the transfer station and the run-off from the hazardous waste collection area of the civic amenity site, should be to a foul sewer.'' So it should. This is the first mention of hazardous waste and its collection. What sort of `hazardous waste' do they expect to see at this facility is one of 35 questions which Jud put to the Assistant County Manager.

Why choose a beautiful and historic seaside town, which attracts many tourists, as the county dump?

``Why,'' asks Anne O'Leary, ``when there is a quarry, Adrigole, only 18 miles up the road, where there is no visual impact, and no houses nearby?'' At the moment nobody quite knows.

After the Bettelgeuse disaster at Whiddy Island, Bantry, through the efforts of its resourceful people, has built itself not only as a major tourist attraction but as a town which offers employment and even the chance for its children to stay. In addition to the Enterprise Centre, the town has an expanding mussel farming and processing industry, and a popular VTOS telecommunications course in the hope of making Bantry a telecommunications call centre.

But there is no way that this town is going to lie down before the designs of the planners. ``It's the contempt with which they (the council) have treated us. Without so much as a by your leave, they want to turn us into the West Cork County dump,'' says Jud Weidner. ``We haven't even got militant yet!''

The Bantry experience underlines just how the best of intentions to reduce and reuse or recycle the mounting waste in Ireland, can be undermined and negated by local council high handedness. ``Instead of gathering the people together, discussing the problems of waste disposal in Ireland, and the need to move away from landfill sites, the municipal authority, backed by all the elected councillors, has leapt into a situation without any consultation or education and stirred justifiable fear that an incinerator is to be placed next door to their houses to dispose of West County Cork's garbage,'' says Anne O'Leary. ``It's not the people who need education on environment and waste management but the planners, the county managers and most of all the councillors, who need to recognise the need for consultation with people.''
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