21 October 1999 Edition

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3,000 march against Superdump.

A policy decision has to be taken whether to allow Waste Management (Ire) to have a superdump at Silvermines in Tipperary. The decision will affect the lives of all of the people in this area for the next generation. The first step in the decision has already been taken. Permission to drain the pond at Silvermines has been given.

The 1991 Local Government Act gives express statutory recognition of the representative functions of local authorities and confers a general competence on local authorities to take action in the interests of their local communities. Councillors occupy ``the pre-eminent position of authority and status in the local government system... to oversee and direct the activities of the local authority generally''. (Department of Environment)

Yet the decision to grant WMI permission to drain the pond was taken by one person, the acting County Manager. The elected councillors have played no part in the decision so far.

Something is wrong.

Who is confused? The acting manager, the law itself, or are the councillors, unaware of their powers to represent? Time will tell.

Well over 3,000 people marched through the streets of Nenagh, Tipperary, on Thursday, 14 October, to express their concern at Waste Management Ireland (WMI)'s proposal to build a super dump up in the mountains at Silvermines.

WMI is the wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management Inc (now Waste Management Holdings, Inc), the largest waste disposal company in the U.S., with 76,500 employees, over 700 subsidiary companies, and 25 million customers, across the world. The company was described in a 1991 Greenpeace Report as providing ``an encyclopaedia of environmental crimes and misdeeds'' (See An Phoblacht 3/12/98).

There were representatives of the IFA, the ICMSA, the ICA, there were numerous environmental groups, political representatives, and hundreds of school children, who marched in the middle of the working day through the small town in North Tipperary. Shop people came out to watch in amazement as the main street filled with thousands shouting `No Dump. No Dump'.

Only the previous week, Round One of the battle to stop WMI getting permission to build the dump had gone to the company, when the acting County Manager, Risteard O Dómhnaill, gave his own permission to WMI to drain the enormous pond of its water and toxic chemicals into the valley below.

The manager gave his permission. Three thousand people didn't give theirs. But then they weren't asked.

In fact, Risteard O Dómhnaill thought it would be `inappropriate' to talk with the Silvermines Environmental Action Group (SAG) committee, or the people they represent.

Jim Flynn, one of the SAG committee members, told the demonstration that O Dómhnaill had refused to take the letter expressing the grave concerns of the group, and instead had suggested that Brian Clancy, of the environmental department would receive the protest. Jim Flynn thought O Dómhnaill might be too busy. Someone in the crowd suggested he might be taking tea with Pinochet.

Duty to `Impartiality'

However Ó Dómhnaill did talk to some members of the committee after the march had dispersed. He explained that in his position as acting manager, he is empowered to deal with such applications, and he is `legally obliged' to treat an application fairly and impartially, and that unless there are `compelling reasons' why he should not grant permission, he is legally obliged to do so.

``It seems that the voices of 3,000 people who live in the area and are opposed to WMI's proposal, is not a `compelling reason','' comments secretary of the committee, Nuala Flynn.

`Compelling reasons'

Nor, it appears, is WMI's chequered career in the business of waste disposal a `compelling reason'. A Greenpeace Report states: ``There has been a history of environmental and anti-trust law violations and attempts to gain illegitimate political influence.''

A report, commissioned by the District Attorney of San Diego County, California, in 1991, concluded that: ``WMI's methods of doing business and history of civil and criminal violations has established a predictable pattern, and this history requires extreme caution by any governmental entity contemplating a business relationship with WMI: that WMI engages in practices designed to gain undue influence over government officials... and to manipulate local government for its own business ends... which practices may have a corrupting influence on local government.''

``Reason enough for `prejudice', grounds enough for a `compelling reason' to reject their application,'' comments Tom Hickey, who lives in Silvermines village.

But such corrupt practices are not just in the past. Only four months ago, Waste Management and four of its executives were charged by San Bernadino County, California, with organising a ``clandestine campaign of espionage, disinformation and dirty tricks'' ( according to the Los Angeles Times).

Who will monitor?

Margaret Ryan has cattle which graze beside the stream, the Foilborig, into which WMI intends to drain the Silvermines pond at the rate of 30,000 cu. metres a day. She has lost four cattle, which died with 2000mgs per litre of lead present in their blood, where 0.5mg/l is considered safe.

The river was often monitored for the presence of lead, but it was only when storm water disturbed the pyrites in the stream bed that lead poisoning showed. ``What effect,'' she asks, ``will a flow through a 12-inch pipe from the pond, 600 feet above sea level , have on the pyrites?''

Brian Clancy of the Council Environment Department spoke highly of the 41 conditions which have been imposed by the Manager on the permission granted to drain the pond. WMI has to pay £2,500 per month to help finance the monitoring of toxicity in the drainage. ``This would scarcely pay the wage bill for monitoring - leave alone buy the expensive equipment needed. Could it be that WMI will do the monitoring?'' asks Tom Hickey.

Fianna Fáil Breaks ranks?

The campaigners had believed that all their councillors were totally opposed to the Silvermines dump. Then on Monday, 18 October, came the bombshell. ``I was completely stunned,'' says Labour Councillor and Senator, Kathleen O'Meara. The council at the time was discussing the question of extending the life the county tiphead at Ballynaveeney, which is due to close shortly. The general subject of WMI dump arose. Councillor Jim Casey, who is considered leader of the majority Fianna Fáil group on the council, argued that it would not be right to say `no' to WMI's application.

Councillor Casey argued that if the council said `no', and did not go through the proper planning process, then WMI would get planning permission by default. ``WMI would appeal a refusal to the High Court, where they would get planning permission, because we had failed the due planning application process,'' Councillor Casey explained to this reporter.

``Furthermore, if the council deals with the planning application, then the council can impose conditions. In the High Court, this option would not be open to us. We'd all love no super dump, but that doesn't mean that it won't and can't be,'' he said.

Casey was objecting to the proposal to extend the Ballynaveeney tiphead for another 10 years. He said: ``If we are just to be left with the tiphead in 10 years time, then I feel that the Silvermines dump should go ahead. We have to be realistic. We need somewhere to put the rubbish. At least Silvermines will be state of the art. I am not an expert. I think we have to trust the professionals on this.''

Landfill is a bathtub

The Environmental Protection Agency of America has observed that no landfill is safe. Leachate cannot be sealed off. It's a myth. The laws of physics dictate that disposal equals dispersal. Leacheate from normal domestic waste contains `13 chemicals which cause birth defects, 22 chemicals causing genetic defects, and 32 which are carcinogenic.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied 2,000 landfill sites, and a further 6,000 which had been in use up to 20 years ago. The report produced the horrifying statistic that children born within a 1.8-mile radius of landfill sites were 33% more likely to suffer birth defects. Within a radius of 4.8 miles, there were found to be significant increases in spina bifida and still births.

An Phoblacht
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