Michael Fisher

As the Bord Pleanála hearing into the proposed EirGrid North/South interconnector reaches the half way stage, public representatives will tomorrow (Monday) be asked to give their views on the development. A number of TDs from Meath and Monaghan along with local Councillors are expected to give evidence to the two inspectors in Carrickmacross. The oral hearing began on March 7th with an overview of the project and the views of the planners from the three counties involved. It’s expected to last a further five weeks, hearing mainly submissions from individual landowners.

EirGrid wants to erect a 400kV high voltage overhead line with 300 pylons extending from a substation at Woodland in Co. Meath near Dunshaughlin through part of Cavan and into Co. Monaghan, crossing the border near Clontibret. The Northern Ireland section of the line through Co. Armagh to Moy in Co. Tyrone is subject to a separate planning process. A preliminary public enquiry will be held in Armagh in June to assess the legality of the application by EirGrid subsidiary SONI.

The oral hearing got underway despite a legal move by anti-pylon campaigners to halt the proceedings. The presiding inspector said she was conducting an information gathering exercise and her report would be submitted at the end to the Planning Board for a decision.

In the third week of the hearing anti-pylon groups the NEPPC and Co. Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee withdrew from the proceedings, claiming they had become a farce. This was because EirGrid had added new information to the planning application submitted last June concerning 25 new or amended access routes out of a total of 584. These would be used by machinery carrying concrete and other material to the sites of the proposed pylons, mainly located in agricultural land. The hearing was told EirGrid had been granted access to only one quarter (25%) of the proposed sites in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, owing to the strident opposition of local landowners.

Driving along some of the proposed route today the notices could still be found at various points such as Brittas, Donaghpatrick and Teltown in Meath (close to the historic Tailteann games site), as well as Shantonagh and Aughnamullen (Lough Egish) in Co. Monaghan, telling EirGrid staff or representatives to keep out of the fields. This meant the consultants for the semi-state company could not walk the ground and had to make use of other measures to draw up their reports on the proposed route, such as aerial photos, photomontages and views taken from the public road and ordnance survey maps, as well as Google earth material. There was some discussion about whether the photomontages taken at the Hill of Tara gave a true reflection of the impact of the line, which would be some 6km away from the historic site in the middle distance.

EirGrid told the hearing on day two that the temporary routes would not involve excavation or the laying of stones or wooden sleepers. Instead rubber mats or aluminium tracks would be laid on land required to gain access to 299 pylon sites.

Padraig O’Reilly of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign said the hearing had developed into a charade second time round. A similar oral hearing on the interconnector six years ago ended when a discrepancy was shown in drawings including the height of the proposed towers in Co. Monaghan and EirGrid withdrew the application.

Meanwhile a legal action by the NEPPC, representing almost 200 landowners mainly in County Meath, went ahead at the High Court in Dublin. It is challenging the validity of the application. Mr Justice Humphreys is due to give a decision before May 12th on whether he will allow a judicial review.

Over 900 submissions comprising over 2000 people and some community groups were made to An Bord Pleanála. Most of them objected to the overhead power lines and pylons and called for them to be placed underground. The EirGrid project manager said last week the underground cable Direct Current (DC) option was the least preferred, primarily on the basis of cost effectiveness, its poor ability to facilitate future grid connections and because it would not be considered as complying with best international practice.

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