This section dealt with material assets: general and traffic
Acting senior engineer with Monaghan County Council John McKernan said EirGrid’s response to submissions last year was too vague on a number of traffic issues. It did not provide any detail in relation to the transport of excess soil from the foundations of the proposed towers to the waste disposal sites. This was particularly in respect of egress from the access routes onto the public road, and the provision of visibility splays at the point of emergence onto the public road.
The response provided merely repeated what had been stated in the original application relating to the use of dumper trucks to deliver concrete to the foundations. He said the company’s response did not provide any detail regarding the off-loading of the concrete from the delivery truck at the public road, and the loading of the dumpers being used to deliver the concrete down the access lanes to the site of the towers.
Mr McKernan said no detail was given regarding the off-loading of the steel framework from the delivery truck at the public road and the loading of the vehicles being used to deliver the steel framework to the sites. EirGrid had still not addressed the key issues regarding the physical capacity of a number of the access routes to accommodate the traffic movements between the public road and the tower sites. He said no realistic measures had been provided to address the issues raised regarding any accommodation works and relating to the control of lands in order to carry out such works.
On the question of how much surplus soil and rock would be generated by excavation at the tower sites and taken away to a licensed waste management site, the ‘worst case scenario’ envisaged by EirGrid was said to be approximately 10,500 cubic metres. Mr McKernan said reasonable figures were required from the company in respect of waste soil generated at each tower location, in order to ascertain the volume of traffic movements generated on the affected public roads.
Regarding the frequency of construction traffic on narrow roads in Monaghan, Mr McKernan said concerns remained that a number of towers would be constructed at the same time in the same area, leading to a significant amount of traffic using the public road. He asked for specific details of the phasing of the construction work in order to allay the Council’s concerns.
Some of the haul routes were quite convoluted. No proposals had been put forward to prevent contractors using public roads that would provide more direct routes for access to towers. EirGrid had proposed to carry out a pre- and post-construction video survey of the road pavements and verges on the haul routes. But this was insufficient in his opinion and a full mechanical machine survey of the public roads involved should be made at least three months in advance of works commencing.
Finally, the use of flag men would not resolve difficulties regarding delivery trucks blocking the public road while parked for off-loading. Nor would it resolve conflicts between large delivery trucks meeting day-to-day traffic traversing the road.
Along with senior planner Toirleach Gourley Mr McKernan continued to interrogate EirGrid about when Monaghan County Council would be provided with specific foundation details for each of the 134 proposed towers in the county and part of Cavan near Kingscourt. EirGrid lawyer Jarlath Fitzsimons SC insisted the relevant information had already been provided in the application and response to submissions. Statements that there was inadequate or no information were without substance, he said. He told the presiding inspector it was not a function of Monaghan County Council to reject the information.
We are looking at new and significant information, Mr Gourley stated. It differed from what had been published in the environmental impact statement. He said he had identified gaps in the EirGrid information. As a result the Council could not examine the impact of construction vehicle movements such as concrete lorries on local roads. The latest information they received conflicted with the information presented on behalf of EirGrid yesterday.
Asked by the inspector about information on traffic movements and towers, consultant engineer Tom Cannon said there had been a robust traffic assessment and the figures provided were an over-estimation of what would be required. He said there would be excavated material during the construction of the proposed development, specifically in relation to the tower foundations. Typically 34 m3 of excess soil would be excavated at each intermediate tower location with approximately 230 m3 of excess soil excavated from angle towers. In the case of three angle 90 degree angle towers the excavations would be deeper, requiring more concrete to be laid and more soil to be removed. It was stated that 96 of the 104 intermediate towers would not require piling. A worst case scenario would be that all excavated material amounting to 10,500m3 for all the towers in Monaghan would be sent off-site to a licenced waste recovery facility. He indicated that there were a number of potential storage sites in Monaghan, including the proposed temporary yard outside Carrickmacross.
But senior planner Toirleach Gourley pointed out that because the licence was coming to an end at one site and another two had been filled with soil from the new factory development on the Monaghan by-pass, the possibilities for disposal were restricted. His estimate was that there was approximately 17,000 m3 of soil to be disposed off as there was an extra 7000 cubic metres intended for the storage yard over and above what was in the environmental assessment.
Jarlath Fitzsimons SC said EirGrid had used information that was publicly available at the time of the planning application in June last year. It was not possible to use a crystal ball to predict the possible landfill sites when the line came to be constructed. Mr Cannon, he said, had indicated some of the sites that might be available. There was a wide sweep of potential disposal areas provided. Different areas would be required at different times. Mr Gourley, he said, seemed to be arguing for perfection in the environmental impact statement.
Robert Arthur of ESB International repeated the various stages of construction that would be required for the towers and gave details of the timescale involved. John McKernan asked for details of concrete lorries that would be off-loading material on public roads to dumper trucks that would bring the concrete up to the site towers. Some of the roads were very narrow and one proposed point for off-loading was at a crossroads and another at a T-junction. He was informed there were three angle towers where extra deliveries of concrete would be required for the deeper foundation.
In response to further questioning, the EirGrid consultant Tom Cannon advised that where the same access route was being used for two or more towers, the pylons would be constructed one at a time in order to reduce the level of traffic on the public road. He outlined other mitigation measure that would be taken including the use of flagmen at a small number of locations to ensure that traffic was not blocked. He also said there would be one proposed road closure during construction of two towers in the Monaghan area.
Mr McKernan asked EirGrid to put in place a mechanical survey of the state of the local roads that would be used three months before the development started. Mr Cannon advised him that the company intended to do a video of the routes involved both before and after construction, but Mr McKernan said this would not be a suitable way of collecting and assessing the relevant information.
Malcolm White of Irish Balloon Flights said his company had been providing passenger flights from its base in Co. Meath for sixteen years. He told the hearing about how their business could be affected if the proposed high voltage power line was permitted. Their main concern was for the safety of passengers and crew.
A consultant for EirGrid Damien Grehan said ballooning was taking place in a landscape that included numerous overhead cables including a 400kV line. Aeronautical engineer Rodney Fewings said the ultimate responsibility for flight regulation rested with the Irish Aviation Authority and pilots were allowed to fly over power lines.
The presiding inspector asked Mr Fewings about the potential of the overhead lines to impact on the Medevac helicopter operations in Ireland, as this had been raised in a number of submissions in response to the planning application. He said he saw no reason why it should be a problem because of the modern navigation equipment on board new helicopters.
This section dealt with the transboundary and cumulative impact
As members of the County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee and NEPPC had decided a fortnight ago they would withdraw from the proceedings over EirGrid’s conduct at the hearing, it was left to the presiding inspector to ask EirGrid any relevant questions in this section. EirGrid said a comprehensive evaluation of the potential effects on County Armagh at the point where the proposed line crossed the border at Lemgare in County Monaghan had been set out in the environmental impact statement. These ranged from none to moderate.
EirGrid subsidiary SONI had produced its own impact assessment for the effects in the Republic of the development in Northern Ireland as the line extends to Turleenan near Moy in Co. Tyrone. Both companies together had produced a separate consolidated environmental statement on the entirety of the project.
EirGrid consultant ecolgist Daireann McDonnell who had presented details of the most recent wintering bird surveys for 2014/15 to the inquiry two days previously in response to a request from the National Parks and Wildlife Service then read a statement into the record. He confirmed that the studies along the proposed line had not identified any new sensitive locations or mitigation requirements for whooper swans. Mr McDonnell recommended that additional flight diverters should be installed on a section of the lines between thirteen towers near the River Blackwater in County Meath.
EIRGRID CLARIFICATION ON LANDS ACCESSED
The hearing was told EirGrid and its consultants had been able to gain access to only 25% of the land along the route required for the towers, because they did not have permission from every landowner. At the conclusion of the module EirGrid lawyer Jarlath Fitzsimons SC outlined the reasons why the company had decided not to use its statutory powers to gain access in order to carry out environmental appraisals.
He said EirGrid respected the rights of each landowner in relation to their own lands, and always sought to achieve access through liaison with landowners and local communities to the greatest extent possible. EirGrid and its team had conducted site appraisals at a sizeable number of locations which, given the high degree of uniformity of land type and land use in both study areas, assisted in the confirmation of the conclusions of the baseline environmental appraisals conducted without the benefit of site surveys, in many instances.
There was no necessity for EirGrid to exercise statutory powers inherited from the ESB in relation to conducting surveys of lands for the proposed interconnector because they were able to use a suite of alternative assessment methods. The senior counsel told the inspectors that EirGrid and its consultants were confident the appraisal methodologies employed where physical access to sites was not granted had not had a material impact on the quantity or quality or adequacy of the information included in both the Environmental Impact Statement and Natura Impact Statement submitted to the Planning Board as part of the application.
EirGrid remained of the view that the exercise of its statutory powers to gain access to lands compulsorily would have not resulted in additional information being garnered which would have altered the environmental appraisal in any material way, he concluded.
STAGE TWO NEXT WEEK
There is a chance today (Thursday) for interested groups or individuals to comment on part one of the proceedings, which began five weeks ago. On Monday the hearing moves into part two, when elected representatives, concerned residents groups from Co. Meath and then individual landowners will make oral submissions on specific issues. Dates for the hearing have been set until mid-May.
HIGH COURT CASE
At the High Court in Dublin last week Mr Justice Humphreys reserved a decision on a legal case by the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign. They are seeking permission for a judicial review of the validity of the planning application by EirGrid. The judge sad he hoped to give a decision before May 12th.