INTERCONNECTOR DAY24

Michael Fisher  Northern Standard 21/04/16 p.14

More Monaghan Landowners

ANN MURRAY from Lemgare expressed her strong objection to the erection of giant pylons across the unspoilt drumlin landscape of Monaghan and neighbouring counties.She said the 400kV line was being foisted upon her family and neighbours. It was a situation over which they had no control and no choice. She said the line would inhibit future development of sites in the area for family members. Their property would be devalued.

There would be an impact on wildlife such as swans, buzzards, badgers, snipe and the protected marsh fritillary butterfly which was to be found in Drumgallon bog. There would be issues over rights of way. There was a health issue. Burying the power line would mean it would be safer and more acceptable to local communities and it would have a lot less impact on health, property devaluation and visual impact.

Her late parents had lived in Lisdungormal all their lives and called it a little bit of heaven here on earth. But with overhead power lines it would certainly change the lives of her family and neighbours.

She pointed out that Lemgare Rocks was a very important part of their heritage and the heritage of county Monaghan. Yet EirGrid wanted to place giant pylons on top of these rocks. Lemgare Mass Rock was also listed as an important piece of history and was an important spiritual and religious site for the community.

There were a number of abandoned mine shafts in Lemgare Rocks and throughout the local area. She wondered if EirGrid had taken this into consideration with regard to construction impacts causing possible collapses of tunnels and collapses of land.

She went on: “From our garden we can see the beautiful scenic view of the Lemgare Rocks and the natural drumlins of County Monaghan in a setting that is breathtaking – a landscape that has taken hundreds of years to mature to its current appearance.

Placing pylons in the visual foreground will detrimentally affect this tranquil setting and is totally inappropriate for a rural landscape. I also believe that these pylons will also produce noise which we do not want to be subjected to, but won’t have an option if permission is granted.”

She pointed out that the pylons would also cross over the pathway of the Monaghan Way. On a summers day you will see lots of hikers walking the route, but if this project got the go- ahead, no-one would want to walk there. She did not understand how EirGrid expected to use narrow laneways to carry construction machinery weighing up to 30 or 40 tonnes bearing a load without having a negative impact.

Multiple loads of concrete and steel would need to be reversed into these laneways and this would not be possible as the local roads were far too narrow and the laneways were only cart tracks with no foundations to withstand multiple heavy loads.

Placing pylons on the side or top of drumlins would pose a health and safety risk for farmers using farm machinery while working their farms. Coupled with this during the construction phase of the project there would be major health and safety risks both to farmers, their families, their livestock and the general public and indeed the workers erecting these pylons. The only way to eliminate such risks was to place these power lines underground.

“Eirgrid have been asked question after question over and over again and we are still waiting on answers and they have lists and lists of unanswered questions from the people of the North East. To us it looks like we are second class citizens”, she said.She called on EirGrid to provide in detail an adequate assessment of the evaluation of alternative routes for this proposal.

Mrs Murray concluded: “Why should my family and the people of County Monaghan, Meath and Cavan pay an unacceptable social and economic price for supplying power to the rest of Ireland and subject themselves to totally unacceptable potential heath risks and also to a total devaluation of our properties which we have worked hard to build and maintain. I trust that An Bord Pleanála as an independent public body will have the courage to take our observations into consideration when making a decision on this project.”

ARLENE BRENNAN from Tasson, Clontibret, said her main concern was in relation to health, as a mother of three young children. She said studies had shown that exposure to EMFs can increase the risk of childhood leukemia. This was any parent’s nightmare to have to live close to these lines with constant worrying about what might happen in the future. Each day of their lives they would have to pass under them on visits to school, football and Irish dancing. Would they now have to consider not going to social activities?

The next concern was the devaluation of their property and farm, which she and her husband worked extremely hard to build it up. In the event that their property might have to be sold, who in their right mind would buy a house or farm near power lines or even an enormous pylon? She also had concerns regarding possible planning permission which might be needed for future generations.

The visual impact of this proposal would be catastrophic, she said. “We have the most beautiful scenery in Co. Monaghan with our rolling drumlins and beautiful lakes. The visitors that call to our house are blown away by the views and beautiful scenery that they can see. If this proposed interconnector gets the go-ahead overground, it would mean that as I open my front door or even glance out my window, the first thing that will catch my eye is a massive steel structure hovering over the skyline.”

Mrs Brennan said she had concerns regarding animal health and in relation to wildlife, something that was very important in rural Ireland. All wildlife needed to be protected. She regularly saw swans flying overhead and on occasion had spotted whooper swans near the lake. It would be awful to see these birds being destroyed, she told the hearing.

She believed the area would be adversely affected by these proposed lines and pylons with regard to tourism. Visitor numbers most likely would decline, as most tourists were fishermen, who travelled by car throughout our drumlin landscape.

The proposed power lines were just passing through Co. Monaghan. Initially EirGrid had tried to fob them off that the power would be of good benefit to them. But now the truth had been unearthed that this was of no benefit to the rural tight-knit community where people actually cared about each other. In her opinion EirGrid did not care about any of them and they were being treated as second class citizens.

EirGrid did not care how this should work; they just wanted to bully their way in across ordinary, decent people who just like her were trying to get on with their lives, work hard and rear their children the best possible way they could. This line was just a supply to power Northern Ireland and the authorities there had not made provision for security of supply within their own jurisdiction, she pointed out. The bottom line was if these proposed lines had to be installed, they must be placed underground.

MATTHEW GORMAN is an agricultural contractor from Tasson. He said the line would form a horse shoe right around his family’s home. He came to the hearing to object totally against overhead lines and ugly pylons in their area on the grounds of health, visual impact, property devaluation and loss of business.

“As an agri contractor I know the lands and laneways in the area like the back of my hand. Some of the narrow laneways and gaps they propose to use for access for construction are only fit for horses and carts. We had to purchase fold-up machinery to access these lands. Has EirGrid taken into consideration the effect high powered lines have on modern machinery?

We have invested heavily in the last number of years. We use a GPS navigation system to measure our work. It will not work under high voltage lines—that’s a fact. The spinning rolls of plastic in the twin satellite wrapper generate electricity. When it comes in contact with a high voltage line it can blow the monitor in the cab €2800 to replace. There’s a brain in the balers when they operate. If there is a jump in frequency under the power lines it can cause a short, blowing the brain and possibly the monitor in the cab cost €4500 in total. In fact when you cross under a power line of smaller voltage the monitor freezes, having a massive effect on the operation.”

Mr Gorman said tractors had an electronic gearbox powered by an ECU. It was known that power lines had a big effect on them too. If this was to go ahead it would have a massive effect on them financially, not counting the downtime working around pylons and the danger to himself and the men manoeuvring around pylons on the side of a hill in the drumlins of the neighbourhood.

He went on: “I think it is desperate that EirGrid think they can just walk over communities and farmers who have been there for generations. Before you make your decision on this, Inspector, think of this going through your back garden and your community. Would you give them permission or would you stand up for family, property and neighbours? We’ll not stop until these lines are buried.”

MARTIN MCGARRELL, Cashel, Annyalla, in an individual submission said the proposed pylon development raised issues about the effects on the health of humans and animals; health and safety; the impact on tourism and the equality of treatment with other parts of the country which he believed Monaghan residents were not being shown. The county would not benefit from the development of an overhead line as there was no sub-station planned by EirGrid along the line. In the west, the story had changed regarding development of the electricity grid and an overhead line had been abandoned and there was talk of an underground route instead. All the money wasted so far in the nine years since the project was first proposed would go a long way to filling the gap between the cost of undergrounding against an overhead line.

Mr McGarrell expressed concerns regarding the impact on wildlife such as buzzards and badgers. He showed the hearing a picture of a badger hole he had taken recently close to where two pylons would be built. The grassland area close to Tasson bog was environmentally sensitive and could take years to recover if it was disturbed.

He said working under the power lines would be dangerous for farmers, such as when they were spreading slurry. The pylons would destroy the landscape and would have a profound effect on tourism. He questioned the proposed access route for construction of two of the pylons which he said would require machinery to go up a narrow lane and across a hedge and sheugh where EirGrid would have to put in a bridge. The proposed development would affect three farm businesses and he wanted to know who would compensate farmers if cattle got a disease.

NOEL MCGARRELL questioned EirGrid about what provision the company would make for him to continue farming while pylons were being constructed. He said the company had not come to him for permission to use access routes they had chosen using aerial photographs and maps.

MARK LEATHAM, owner of land beside Mr McGarrell’s, claimed that no information had been sent out by EirGrid to landowners and that they had been excluded from the consultation process. He wondered how contractors working on behalf of EirGrid would manage to get concrete that would first be offloaded into dumper trucks up to the pylon construction sites without spilling some of the load over the fields.

JOHN MCGUINNESS an 80 year-old farmer from Annagh, Annyalla said he had a 20 acre holding, spread over three-quarters of a mile. One pylon would be beside his house and another near his farmyard. He claimed EirGrid were taking land off people through the back door. He questioned how one of the towers would be built when it would have two legs built into a rock and the other two legs 15ft lower down in a bog.

CIARAN KERR, his neighbour, said the overhead line would be a monumental insanity. It had no community support, despite EirGrid’s sponsorship of events. None of their children when grown up would want to live in a house close to a power line. They would want to move elsewhere. Was EirGrid going to compensate them for that?, he wondered. They had been saying all along they wanted the line out underground but all they got was a ‘No’. Undergrounding was the future and overhead lines were the past, he said.

Mr Kerr also asked the company’s representatives to explain what would happen if ice formed on the power lines and whether the weight would bring them closer to the ground because of sagging. A simple engineering question, he said, to which he wanted to know the answer.

COLETTE MCELROY claimed that EirGrid had moved a proposed tower closer to their home in the latest proposed route compared with the previous application. She spoke about the effect the power lines and the noise they could emit would have on her son, who has autism.

EIRGRID RESPONSE

EirGrid said it would arrange to bring back its environmental expert at an agreed date to answer questions that arose about the sound from power lines and the possible effects on children with autism. The company also provided some responses to invidual landowners about the proposed access routes for constructing pylons and details of machinery that would be used to carry out the work.

Robert Arthur of ESB International explained how concrete lorries would arrive at a suitable location on the public roadway close to the pylon sites. The concrete would then be offloaded into tracked machinery or a wheeled dumper truck. It would not be filled to full capacity. Shuttering would be used at the side to ensure that the concrete did not spill out when it was traversing laneways and fields. He said the type of machinery available would be able to go along narrow lanes and they would be cutting hedgerows to ground level to provide access to some sites.

EirGrid engineering consultant Tom Cannon explained that a traffic management plan would be drawn up by the contractors for the access routes. Flag men would be posted at various points to communicate with the drivers of vehicles and liaise with landowners about traffic movements. At one of the pylon sites in the area near Clontibret, approximately 33 lorry loads of concrete would be required for building the tower foundation. The deliveries would be spread out over three days.

A lawyer for EirGrid Jarlath Fitzsimons SC explained that the company’s practice had been to engage with land owners regarding access to land once planning permission had been granted. Statutory powers for access would only be used as a last resort.

Regarding a claim by Mark Leatham that there had been no contact with the landowner, Mr Fitzsimons said there was a comprehensive record of correspondence with the person who was the registered landowner, now deceased. A search of property registration the previous day showed the name of the owner had not yet been changed.

EirGrid landscape consultant Jeorg Schulze was asked to explain why pylons had been located in some cases close to houses. But he said they had were within the recommended distance from the line. He was asked about photographs that had been displayed to the inspectors showing panoramic views from the top of hills that would be spoilt by the pylons.

Mr Schulze said the photomontages he had produced were all taken from public roadways, in accordance with international guidelines. Asked about some of the residential impact assessments regarding what could be seen of the proposed power line from a particular house, he said the methodology used had been consistent both in the Republic and in the North.

Regarding compensation to farmers for any losses, William Mongey of EirGrid said there was a code of practice in place between the ESB and the IFA. This set out their policy throughout the country. The terms of compensation for farmers on whose land a pylon was being erected were described in an earlier module.

On the question of ice on power lines, Robert Arthur of EirGrid said there were no national or EU design standards requiring a particular ground clearance for ice loading. The standards were for normal weather. Ice loading had therefore not been factored into the figure for clearance of the wires above the ground.

Mr Arthur also said he was confident the type of leg extensions the ESB had for latticed steel pylons would suffice for building the tower in the area where Mr McGuinness had expressed concern. They could be used for two of the four legs on the lower side of the tower foundation.

The hearing will sit on Monday and Tuesday of next week when it will continue to hear submissions from Monaghan landowners.

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY23

MARTIN MCGARRELL from Cashel, Annyalla, explained he was acting as spokesperson for the Co. Monaghan landowner group consisting of 115 landowners who were totally opposed to pylons on their lands. This represented 92% of landowners in the area stretching from border at Lemgare to S. Monaghan almost to Cavan border.

As had already been pointed out, 99% of people who attended three open days in Monaghan in May 2013 indicated they had no acceptance of the current project. This remained the case despite the vast amount of money EirGrid had spent trying to infiltrate our communities by way of sponsorship of local radio stations and the GAA.

This advertising in the local media which had been ongoing since the application was lodged in June 2015 and particularly intense since this oral hearing began is prejudicial to a fair outcome and totally contrary to natural justice, not to mention a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

They may be here to talk but the talk had been of rebuttal, denial, stonewalling, constant changing of evidence, filibustering, legalistic and technical jargon and point blank refusal to supply reasonable information that was requested.

EirGrid say that 25% of the lands have been accessed and surveyed but yet no maps have been produced to prove this. We firmly believe that nowhere near 25% of lands were accessed in Monaghan and if they were then it was done by trespass without the knowledge of the owner.

The landowners are full supportive of the stance taken by both CMAPC and NEPPC when they withdrew from part one of the hearing. Both the Cavan/Meath landowners and Monaghan landowners unanimously endorsed this stance at hugely attended meetings in Navan on Holy Thursday and Aughnamullen on Easter Monday.

What EirGrid was allowed to do by way of submitting maps in the EIS without firstly informing the landowners concerned was a total insult to not only the 25 affected landowners but to all the landowners in general. An insult to one is an insult to all.

To compound this insult the amended maps were delivered some days and indeed weeks later in the case of the first six by courier on Good Friday and Easter Tuesday, after they had been presented to this oral hearing, without any consultation with the landowners whatsoever.

MARIA FITZPATRICK from Lemgare claimed people in Monaghan were not being given the same treatment as the rest of the country where partial undergrounding of electricity lines was being allowed. She expressed concerns about the access route EirGrid proposed to use to get to the proposed pylon site. She said it would bring construction traffic along a laneway lines with hawthorn hedges and it was not suitable for that. She also wanted to know what would happen to the horses she kept when work on the towers was taking place. They would not have access to water if the laneway was blocked. They were also sensitive animals and she was concerned for their safety. She said it would also affect her husband’s business. 

MARTIN TRAYNOR from Lemgare said the power line would have a devastating impact as it would split his farm in two. He would have no choice but to travel under the lines several times daily to carry out his work. His elderly mother lived next door and her residence would be about 44m from the outer conductor of the line. He had a shed that was less than 30m away from the outer conductor of the line.

Mr Traynor claimed that the construction of the foundations for one of the towers had the potential to ruin the spring well from which he drew his water supply. There would be knock-on impacts for his farming enterprise and suckler cow herd, depriving him of earning a living from the land.

PHILIP AND ANNA COLLINS, Lisdrumgormley, had their submission presented by Jim McNally. They had expanded their our poultry house egg production in 2011 to accomodate 32,000 laying hens. However this new poultry house had not been included on the developer’s maps in the planning application.

EirGrid had admitted their property was very highly sensitive in the EIS, but had made no attempt to change the route, or to actively engage with, or accommodate them at any time in a positive or constructive manner. NIE in the North had redirected the line in South Tyrone near the Moy to avoid poultry housing.

No great effort was made by the developer to look at putting this powerline underground using DC technology along national roadways which would have avoided a very high sensitive poultry egg producing unit such as theirs. The omission of the new poultry unit from the EirGrid maps in their view rendered the EIS and the planning application incomplete, given that their poultry business should be classified as “very highly sensitive” in line with EirGrid’s own parameters.

Mr Mc Nally also presented a submission for KATHLEEN HUGHES of Lisdrumgormley. She expressed concerned about the real potential disturbance to the animals on the family farm and the access restrictions to the land in real terms during construction. She was concerned about the ongoing interruption to farming work and the potential for the spread of disease among animals. The access route for proposed pylon 109 was near a bend, off a local road, and would require the removal of wire fencing and hedgerow and bulldozing, to level off high ground and uneven surfaces in the field. No clarification on how each of these issues would be addressed had ever been explained to her.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY10

This section dealt with landscape and visual impacts

Joerg Schulze consultant landscape architect for EirGrid responded to comments on day nine by Toirleach Gourley, senior planner Monaghan County Council, about eight photomontages taken at points along the line in Co. Monaghan having limited legibility of pylons. He also replied to comments about the effect on the Monaghan Way at Lemgare Rocks near Clontibret.

Mr Schulze explained the process by which the photomontages had been assembled, using computer software with a 3D model of the proposed structure. If this picture was enhanced then it would produce an image that was not as close to reality.

He accepted that a small part of the Monaghan Way walking route would be affected. In selecting the route for the pylons, he had walked along parts of the Monaghan Way including the section at Mullyash mountain that were within the study area. He accepted that one pylon (tower 109) where the line crossed a local road at Lemgare Rocks near Clontibret would have a significant localized impact. 

IMPACT ON HILL OF TARA

The proposed interconnector from Woodland in Co. Meath to Turleenan in Co. Tyrone using overhead power lines “will not have a significant impact” on views from the important site at the Hill of Tara, according to EirGrid. But a consultant for Meath County Council claimed there would be high or very high impact on a view of national significance.

The differences emerged at the Bord Pleanála oral hearing in Carrickmacross into the plan for what is said to be one of the biggest ever pieces of infrastructure in the state. Joerg Schulze, consultant landscape architect for EirGrid, said that seen from the hill, the transmission line to the east would not dominate the landscape. It would be located in the middle distance, with the closest pylon being 6.29km away and would not be immediately apparent from that standpoint.

Concerns were also expressed by Meath County Council planners about the effect on Brittas demesne near Nobber, where a 74m wide swathe of mature woodland would have to be removed to make way for the overhead line.

The Hill of Tara with its Iron Age hilltop enclosure is Ireland’s ancient capital. It is a candidate UNESCO world heritage site, nominated by the government in 2010 on a list of properties considered to have cultural and/or natural heritage of outstanding universal value. Tara is one of five royal sites that represent ‘unique expressions of Irish society’ as places of royal inauguration, ceremony and assembly, representing each of the five provinces of ancient Ireland.

EirGrid says that in identifying a potential route for the interconnector it took into account key constraints such as architectural and archaeological heritage sites. Landscapes sensitive to visual impact and soil type, areas designated for nature conservation and the location of dwellings and buildings were also considered.

Meath County Council engaged Conor Skehan of planning and environmental consultants CAAS Ltd to assess all designated scenic viewpoints that were included in the County Development Plan. He concluded that seven views including Tara and at Bective Bridge would be affected by the proposed development.

EirGrid says the viewpoint in close proximity of Lia Fáil within the Tara Complex was located outside the 5km study area for the line route but had been included due to its elevation and available panoramic views. It states that “The landscape in this unit forms part of the cluster of low flat hills that includes the Hill of Tara. The flat nature of the surrounding landscape means that panoramic views are possible even from slightly elevated areas. The landscape is man altered and made up of medium to large scale fields within a network of roads including three regional roads and hedgerows which generally limit views into the landscape.” The magnitude of change and impact caused by the proposed development is considered negligible and not significant, the company concluded.

Landscape architect Joerg Schulze for EirGrid acknowledged that while he agreed with most of the assessments made by Mr Skehan, there was a considerable difference of opinion with Meath County Council regarding the effect on Tara. He said that in preparing photomontages from that viewpoint, he had very clearly attained what was and was not visible.

He showed the photomontages to the planning inspectors along with a picture that by using standard computer software superimposed the line of the pylons. Mr Schulze pointed out that an existing 220kV line from Gorman to Maynooth that was only 1.25km away was not immediately apparent and was barely discernible in the photomontages. The proposed 400 kV development would be located approximately 4.5 to 5km further away from this 220kV line and would be seen entirely against the land, which would reduce the general visibility of this type of development significantly further, according to EirGrid.

But Mr Skehan for Meath County Council was of the opinion that in this area the transmission line and associated towers would have an effect under many different lighting conditions.

In winter, he said, in conditions of low light and clear skies, the development would be noticeable over a wide area. In summer, with lots of clouds moving over the landscape, and partly light, it would also become noticeable.

EirGrid was also questioned by the presiding inspector about the effect of the proposed line on demesnes in Co. Meath, especially Brittas near Nobber. Mr Schulze revealed that the visual impact of the line had been assessed from public roads only, as many private properties were not accessible. The impact on the landscape at Brittas had been found to be significant as the planning included the removal of mature woodland.

Approximately 2.7 acres of mature woodland might have to be removed to allow for a maximum 74m wide corridor. The line route runs parallel to the public road in this location, and whilst the road was generally heavily vegetated, intermittent views into the estate were possible. At a gate lodge at an entrance to Brittas estate, the conductors would be visible crossing the road (as shown in a photomontage) and towers would be partially visible from the local road adjoining the estate in locations where boundary vegetation was thin, according to the landscape and visual impact assessment.

EirGrid had been asked earlier in the hearing why it had not included in this photograph the nearest pylon, which was 245m away from the gate lodge. The NEPPC had argued that the photomontages were not representative of the impact of the proposed infrastructure on the environment. The reply was that all the photography and photomontages had complied with Landscape Institute guidelines.

Mr Schulze explained that taking the overhead line through the Brittas demesne would have the least impact on being able to view it from public roads. If the route was moved away from the woodland it would be closer to the village of Nobber. But Meath County Council architectural conservation officer Jill Chadwick said the line would have a significant impact on Brittas House.

The EirGrid consultant was also asked about an option that had been examined for putting underground a short 3km section of the route between ten proposed pylons, instead of removing the woodland at Brittas. The company’s assessment was that there were no impacts of such significance envisaged, including those on landscape, which would introduce the need for consideration of partial undergrounding for the proposed development at this location. The inspector also asked EirGrid about the effect at Ardbraccan demesne.

Questions to presiding inspector by two Co. Monaghan residents Mary Marron and Margaret Marron from Shantonagh. Mary Marron asked when EirGrid would be producing maps for the nineteen landowners where the company had revealed it would require a new access point to their land for construction work, because of anomalies in the maps supplied in the original application last year. She claimed that people were being denied information that they needed in order to make a proper submission to the hearing. She also wanted to know the size and capacity of the machines to be used in construction, and how long the temporary matting to be used for some access roads into fields would remain in place. Landowners did not know physically how their holdings would be affected.

Margaret Marron said landowners were “up in arms” over EirGrid’s approach to the hearing. They did not have the expertise available to them that the company did. They needed to have the full information before them.

Responding for EirGrid Jarlath FitzSimons SC said the company would provide landowners within the week the new information containing 25 access route modifications. (These were hand delivered by courier on Good Friday). He said construction would take place over a period of three years but it was not a programme of work. The company would deal with individual issues as they arose when the hearing came to examine the concerns of specific land holders. The relevant experts would be made available at the stage required, he said.

Tom Corr, a consultant for EirGrid, (native of Killeevan, Co. Monaghan) is one of the authors of a report commissioned by the company into the potential relationship between property values and high voltage overhead transmission lines in Ireland, published last month. He told the inspectors that farmland process along the proposed interconnector route were not expected to be affected at all.

Working with Professor of Statistics at the University of Limerick Dr Cathal Walsh, their survey found that the presence of pylons or overhead lines had “no significant impact” on prices of residential and farm properties. It concluded that “the perception of potential decreases in sales value as a result of high-voltage overhead lines close to property far outweighs the reality borne out in actual sales data”. Where negative impacts were found there was evidence to suggest that they generally decreased with time, the study said.

An EirGrid policy consultant on compensation William Mongey revealed that the company is providing €4 million for a local community fund to be administered in conjunction with local authorities. EirGrid will contribute €40,000 per kilometre for communities in proximity to new 400kV pylons and stations. For owners of property there would be a proximity payment of €30,000 for residences at 50m from the proposed line. This would decrease to €5,000 at 200m. EirGrid said it sought to locate new lines at least 50m from homes but in exceptional cases where this was not achievable it would deal with the affected property owners on an individual basis. The total set aside for this compensation is €4.6 million.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY1

BORD PLEANÁLA HEARING ON EIRGRID INTERCONNECTOR PLAN OPENS

Michael Fisher  NORTHERN STANDARD

A legal move by anti-pylon campaigners failed to halt the opening on Monday of a planning enquiry into a major project by EirGrid to construct a high voltage electricity line through Meath and parts of Cavan and Monaghan extending into Northern Ireland. Two inspectors from An Bord Pleanála began a hearing in Carrickmacross concerning the proposed North/South 400kV interconnector.

The hearing has been divided into two parts and it’s expected it could last up to three months. Over 900 submissions comprising over 2000 people and groups were made to An Bord Pleanála, most of them objecting to the overhead power lines and pylons.

DAY ONE

Project overview and views of the planning authorities.

The inspectors heard an overview of the project from EirGrid and brief submissions by planners from the three local authorities involved. But when the inspectors began the section dealing with legal and statutory processes, a challenge was made by a lawyer on behalf of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign.

He asked the inspectors to adjourn the oral hearing because NEPPC had earlier in the day attempted to get it stopped at the High Court in Dublin. Judge Humphreys did not grant an interlocutory injunction but agreed to a review involving all parties on Friday 18th March. Senior planning inspector Breda Gannon said she intended to proceed with the hearing until such time as she received any court order to stop.

Sitting alongside another inspector Deirdre McGowan, Ms Gannon explained at the outset that this was an information gathering exercise for the Board. She said she would prepare a report and make a recommendation. The ultimate decision on the application rested with the Board, who she said might or might not approve it, with or without modifications.

This is the second such inquiry in over five years. A previous hearing in 2010 ended abruptly when a discrepancy was exposed in the planning documentation regarding the height of pylons and EirGrid withdrew the application.

INTERCONNECTOR PLAN

The high voltage line proposed by EirGrid would connect the electricity systems on both sides of the border. It would run for 103km from an existing sub-station at Woodland near Batterstown in County Meath, through a small part of County Cavan and through 42 townlands in County Monaghan. This section in the Republic would have 299 pylons ranging in height from 26m to 51m above ground level to carry the overhead wires. 165 of the pylons would be in County Meath, covering 54.5km and 134 in Cavan/Monaghan covering 46km of the line.

At Lemgare near Clontibret the line would cross into County Armagh and thence to Turleenan near the Moy in County Tyrone. This section is subject to a separate investigation by the NI Planning Appeals Commission, which will hold a one-day preliminary hearing in Armagh in June to consider legal issues.

PROJECT OVERVIEW

A barrister for EirGrid outlined why the semi-state company needed to construct the second interconnector. He outlined some of the technical reasons why the line was needed to balance the supply systems North and South.

Jarlath Fitzsimons S.C. told the hearing the project was essential to secure safe, reliable, economic and efficient electricity supply between the Republic and Northern Ireland. He said that an independent report by international experts in 2012 had estimated that undergrounding of the wires would cost three times more than putting them overhead. EirGrid was therefore proposing that the best technical solution was for a wholly overhead line.

He explained that the electricity markets North and South were interlinked and interdependent. If for any reason either accidental or deliberate the current interconnector was disabled then the consequences would be very grave indeed. If the imbalance caused by such an event was not corrected quickly then a system could collapse, he said.

Mr Fitzsimons said it was estimated the development would save €20m annually from 2020 rising to between €40m and €60m from 2030 onwards.

EirGrid senior planning consultant Des Cox explained the proposed route for the interconnector. Using maps he showed how the pylons had been sited in order to avoid residential areas where possible. Consideration was also given to avoid areas where there were important archaeological or geological features, and heritage interests. He said the application included a temporary storage yard for materials outside Carrickmacross.

MONAGHAN COUNTY COUNCIL

Toirleach Gourley a senior executive planner with Monaghan County Council said the EirGrid response to submissions published in December represented much of what was set out in the original application. A number of issues previously raised by the Council remained to be addressed, he said. He outlined some of these for the inspectors. Some of the detail about temporary access routes for the construction of pylons was quite limited.

Regarding photomontages that had been supplied by EirGrid, he said a number of these were not representative of the views at various locations and no new information had been provided to address this issue. Concerning roads, the Council still had concerns about the transport of excess soil from pylon construction sites to a waste disposal area and how it could impact on local roads that could not physically accommodate larger vehicles. The proposed video survey of roads before and after the erection of pylons was inadequate in terms of identifying any damage to them.

Mr Gourley said the Co. Monaghan heritage officer believed there was still insufficient information regarding the potential impact on archaeology and protected structures. The view of the council’s tourism officer was that the development will have an adverse impact on tourism in the county, in areas such as the Monaghan Way.

A senior executive planner for Meath County Council Fiona Redmond pointed out that since their submission last year commenting on the EirGrid application, the Council had approved in December a new county development contribution scheme 2016-2021 which came into effect on 1st January. She pointed out that the infrastructure charge for erecting a 400 kV pylon would be €10,000 per pylon to be paid by the developer.

CMAPC SUBMISSION ON LEGAL PROCESSES

The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee was represented by Nigel Hillis. He told the inspectors EirGrid last week published its latest All Island Generation Capacity Statement 2016 – 2025. It stated that the second North-South interconnector was vital to ensure the security of electricity supply for the future in both Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“In association with the competent authorities in the respective jurisdictions, we are actively progressing work to deliver this Project of Common Interest by 2019”, the document said.

Mr Hillis observed that it was not clear from this if the competent authorities referred to were the competent authorities under the (cross-border) Project of Common Interest regulations or the competent authorities with regards to planning matters.

In any event it did not matter as there was only one competent decision making authority in this case, namely An Bord Pleanála. So therefore, EirGrid and An Bord Pleanála were actively progressing work to deliver this PCI.

Mr Hillis asked if this planning application had been prejudged. “Has the decision been made? Are we wasting our time coming to this oral hearing?”, he told the inspectors.

A lawyer for the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign requested that their submission on legal matters be adjourned until the morning as their senior counsel was not in a position to make a presentation, owing to his involvement that day with the case in Dublin.

Presiding Inspector Breda Gannon said the NEPPC was inconveniencing the hearing. She had allocated five hours for them to speak and in the circumstances she had no choice but to finish the first day of the hearing early. She penalised the group by reducing their allocated time to three hours when the hearing resumed on Tuesday morning.