INTERCONNECTOR DAY19

DAY 19

EIRGRID’S RESPONSE

EirGrid lawyer Jarlath Fitzsimons SC said the photomontages were not a clever manipulation, nor were they dishonest. It was unhelpful and inaccurate suggest this. He said a full suite of tools had been used in making assessments and a number of significant impacts along the route had been clearly identified regarding specific residences.

Consultant landscape architect for EirGrid Jeorg Schulze gave an extensive reply to the concerns about photomontages raised by Fine Gael Cllr Sean Gilliland. He said they helped to give an assessment of the visual impact of the line on specific vistas identified in the county development plan. In response to several queries about why houses had not been shown in the photomontages, Mr Schulze said it was the landscape that was being assessed. He pointed out that the residential impact assessment for residences had covered 1070 houses within 500m either side of the proposed line in the Monaghan area. At no point had they tried to hide any impact there would be on residences.

He said the environmental impact statement stated the impact on individual houses and gave conclusions. They did not need photomontages from all locations to come to those conclusions. He himself had seen some of the areas from the public road and had walked along part of the Monaghan Way. Cllr Gilliland listened to the explanation and said EirGrid were being “economic with the truth” and he would leave it at that.

Monaghan County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Noel Keelan, asked the presiding inspector what would be the response from An Bord Pleanála when a new government was formed and the new Dáil would have representatives from three main parties opposed to an overhead line, as had been made clear on Monday. He was informed that the Board would have to have regard to current government policy when it made its decision.

Fine Gael Cllr Aidan Campbell asked the inspectors what weight was placed by An Bord Pleanála on the county development plan, which had been worked on by all the councillors and the planning officers. The EirGrid response was not what they wanted because it contravened a number of things in the plan. So what was the point of having one, he asked. Presiding inspector Breda Gannon confirmed that the Board also had to have regard for county development plans (as well as government policy) in coming to their decisions.

This section dealt with concerned residents’ groups from Co. Meath

The inspectors heard submissions from eleven groups of residents who had come together to lodge joint submissions to An Bord Pleanála. The effect of the planned line on historic areas such as Teltown and Donaghpatrick was again made clear. Many had sent in objections when the previous application had made. By making one objection, it meant each group had to make only one payment of €50. The hearing was told that as almost 1000 submissions had been made to the Board, this would have brought in nearly €50,000 in revenue.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY16

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.

BALLOON FLIGHTS

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.

BIRD STUDIES

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.

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY14

This section dealt with flora and fauna

Two experts from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht were present at the hearing. Dr David Tierney a wildlife ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service talked about the impact of the development on bird migration patters, particularly whooper swans. The swans tended to be found on wetland in parts of Co. Meath and some of their flight lines would go close to the proposed power lines.

Dr Tierney noted that in EirGrid’s respsonse to submissions, “grey coloured flight diverters are proposed as they will minimise potential additional visual impact impacts whilst increasing the visibility of the earth wire to flighting birds”. He said it seemed the choice of using grey diverters over yellow might have been made on aesthetic grounds, potentially compromising their efficacy in reducing bird deaths. It was difficult to understand that grey line markers offered more contrast than yellow ones especially in an Irish context of relatively mild wet winters.

He noted that along with bird distribution and flight activity surveys EirGrid proposed to undertake surveys of wintering waterbirds sites in the area along the route of the line. It would be useful if such data was regularly submitted to the Irish Wetland Bird Survey office, he said.

Apart from starting to acquire a standardised evidence base to quantify bird fatalities as a result of collision events with electric utility facilities across Ireland, which would inform the assessment of future developments, Dr Tierney said data collected from the proposed monitoring programme would need to be able to feedback into adapting, refining and increasing where necessary the suite mitigation measures aimed at minimising bird collision rates if this development was permitted.

Cliona O’Brien head of ecological assessment at the NPWS commented on an issue raised with EirGrid about what would happen if a badger sett was discovered at any of the tower construction sites. The hearing was informed that the company would then apply to the Department under the Wildlife Act for the necessary licence for any works during the construction period.

She also raised the subject of a previous ecological incident involving the construction of a 110kV electricity line by the ESB over bogland in County Donegal.

EirGrid’s response was that the line in question was constructed in quite challenging terrain consisting of deep peat that was completely different to that of the proposed North South interconnector. On the Donegal project an incident occurred during the lifting of bog mats which resulted in the top layer of soil being removed.

The company said it was now standard practice for an ecologist to oversee work on large transmission projects to ensure the construction and monitoring protocol was followed. In the case of the interconnector, EirGrid said the environmental officer would monitor construction to minimise impacts to bats, otters, kingfishers, badgers, whooper swans and other birds.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY11

This section dealt with human beings: land use

The inspectors heard from the Meath IFA Chairman Diarmuid Lally (also representing the IFA in Monaghan and Cavan), Kingscourt IFA (Eugene Lambe a dairy farmer from Cordoagh) and the ICMSA President John Comer and local representative Lorcan McCabe from Bailieborough. Lorcan Mc Cabe who is Chairperson of the ICMSA Farm Business Committee and is a Cavan man who is here today with me to represent the views of our members in the North-East.

Diarmuid Lally claimed there had been inadequate consultation with farmers by EirGrid. There had been an inadequate consideration of alternatives such as undergrounding. The cost of undergrounding had started off at 25 times the cost of an overhead line, but now the cost was almost equal, he said.

Mr Lally claimed there was no need for the interconnector. It was about sending electricity to Northern Ireland and had absolutely nothing to do with the North East. He said the NI Assembly had not yet clarified its plans for the power stations at Coolkeeragh and Ballylumford and there might be no need for transferring the extra electricity produced in the Republic to Northern Ireland. He wondered why a coastal route had not been chosen along the eastern seaboard, at the time the machinery had been in place to lay the underground cable connecting Rush in Co. Dublin to Prestatyn in Wales (the East-West interconnector).

The IFA Meath Chairman said the approach of EirGrid to the farming community had been arrogant. There was no engagement with the community. Mr Lally raised questions about the effect of the line on the health and wellbeing of farm families and workers. He also wondered what the effect would be on the single farm payments received by farmers for working their land, if EirGrid constructed one or more pylons on their property. Who would be compensating the farmer?, he asked.

He also made a number of points regarding health and safety on farms and asked what studies the company had done about potential crop disease or soil problems arising from the construction work. He wondered how farmers would do their business because of disruption during the eight to twelve weeks it took to construct a pylon on their land. He also asked EirGrid about the effect the power lines might have on the use of GPS equipment in machines such as combine harvesters.

The ICMSA President John Comer said the interconnector plan was of major concern to their members in the North-East and they opposed it. He said the identified route mainly traversed open countryside, having been designed to avoid towns and villages and clusters of rural housing. The proposed route would have the vast majority of the pylons erected in existing farmland and the power lines would overhang farm land. Mr Comer said there was deep frustration in rural communities on this issue and how it had been managed to date.

He said the ICMSA believed that the importance of the agri-food sector to export driven growth in the economy could not be underestimated with the total value of food and drink exports from Ireland in 2014 reaching a record of €10.5 billion. There had been considerable investment and energy expended over many years on promoting the very successful “Clean and Green” Irish brand abroad. The Association believed there was potential for considerable damage to Ireland’s reputation by the erection of large pylons through some of the most productive farmland in the country.

One of the main contentions was the reluctance by EirGrid to examine alternatives to the construction of the pylons, which would dominate the landscape and tower above homes and landscape features. The ICMSA was acutely aware of the importance of a properly functioning electricity network in terms of promoting foreign direct investment and jobs for the region, but it believed this must not be at an unnecessary cost to farm and rural families and their livelihoods. In this context, the ICMSA supported the undergrounding of cables to ensure minimum impact on the rural environment.

Mr Comer said the people who depend on it for a living believed a detailed independent cost-benefit analysis should be carried out and published on undergrounding before any final decision was made. In addition, the ICMSA believed a comprehensive independent Environmental Impact Study must be carried out which specifically addressed the impact from a farming, agri-economic and rural perspective.

ICMSA believes that all major farming enterprises including dairying, beef, sheep, equine, horticulture, forestry, tillage and poultry would be impacted by the proposed scheme and has concerns regarding the fact that not one single study of farming activities has been carried out and no alternative measures have been proposed. In addition, this proposal was likely significantly to devalue agricultural holdings. The construction of the transmission lines and associated large structures would significantly disrupt farming operations on an ongoing basis. Agricultural land would be rendered sterile along the 1km wide corridor which would traverse the countryside, Mr Comer said.

He called for further research to be done on the impact of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on living organisms. EMF was a particular concern for dairy farmers and the possible impact on somatic cell count and the associated costs. The ICMSA President pointed out that there were health and safety issues that needed to be addressed.

He continued: “It is a widely held view that that these high voltage power lines and pylons are the most objectionable form of public utility infrastructure on land. In addition to farming related issues they impose significant negative effects in relation to visual and environmental impact, land and property devaluation, and health and safety concerns. The ICMSA, on behalf of its farming members, supports the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign and their legitimate objective of demanding that these lines be placed underground.”

Responding to the points raised by the IFA and ICMSA representatives a property consultant for EirGrid Tom Corr repeated his view that the development of overhead lines was not expected to have any effect on farmland prices. There was no evidence of farm prices being impacted by the more than 400km of 400kV lines and 1800km of 220kV power lines already in existence in the Republic. He said international research showed that the impact of overhead lines diminished with time.

Mr Corr said that coming as he did from County Monaghan, it was his own experience over more than 30 years that he best customers were not out off by a property for sale that had an overhead power line.

Aidan Geoghegan, project manager for the EirGrid interconnector, told the hearing he could say with confidence that overhead lines did not interfere with GPS systems and the conductors would not affect the system signals.

Agricultural consultant Con Curtin for EirGrid said the concerns over electromagnetic fields around the lines had already been dealt with. The farmer would continue to have use of the land under the 400kV lines without any significant change. He said safety at sites could be managed and that farmers already had to operate machinery under overhead lines such as telephone wires.

Regarding the possible spread of animal disease such as TB from badgers, Mr Curtin said the risk was imperceptible. Vehicles used by contractors at a farm would be disinfected where required. Livestock would not be allowed to stray between holdings, he added. Regarding claims that Ireland’s green image for food could be affected, Mr Curtin said there was no reason for it to be affected. EirGrid pointed out that there were agri-food ventures in other counties such as Clare that had overhead high voltage lines.

Finally, another mapping error was revealed. Mr Curtin corrected a land use evaluation in the application by EirGrid surrounding a proposed tower no. 125 near Annagh in Co. Monaghan. The pylon would be located in a 1ha field and it was assumed that it was part of a particular holding, but the wrong one was outlined on the map originally provided. The impact of the tower on the corrected holding is now said to be slight adverse and in the adjoining land parcel it is now described as imperceptible.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY7

This section dealt with the impacts of the project on health

The third week of the oral hearing opened with presentations on the impacts on health of the interconnector. The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee told the hearing local residents were terrified about the proposed 400kV line and felt they had been bullied and intimidated by EirGrid.

CMAPC FEARS ABOUT HEALTH ISSUES

Margaret Marron from Corbane, Shantonagh said the fact that the proposed line was going so close to their homes had already had a detrimental impact on their lives. The perceived risk of constant exposure to radiation sent shivers down their spines, she said. They had genuinely held concerns and fears about health issues arising from the planning application.

They knew their property would be devalued; they would not be able to provide (building) sites for their children; it would impact negatively on their work and farming practices; it would produce annoying noise. They were terrified it would affect their own physical health and more especially that of their children. This was the reality of life for people along the proposed route in Co. Monaghan.

They were very angry and felt that they had been bullied, intimidated and treated as second class citizens by EirGrid, she said. Almost 800 submissions to the Planning Board had referenced health as a huge issue. Farming including milking of cows would be totally unsustainable as there was no time frame on the project, no telling what time of year construction would start or finish and a farmer could not do his work without free and unrestricted access to his land.

Margaret Marron said there were a number of families with children with autism living in tranquil rural locations that were in close proximity to the proposed line. The quality of their lives would change irrevocably if the interconnector in its proposed format went ahead, she told the hearing.

Children with autism were highly sensitive to noises such as those emitted from power cables. One parent with a pylon construction site entrance 10 metres from the boundary of her home was absolutely terrified about the possible effect on her child with autism.

EirGrid’s spin doctors and PR consultants had failed miserably over the past eight years to assuage people’s concerns and fears regarding exposure to electromagnetic fields, a feature of the overhead high voltage power lines.

There were many landowners in the Monaghan area who were fitted with implanted medical devices (pacemakers) who worked in the open air and would have to work under and around the power line. This seemed to be potentially a serious health risk and EirGrid had just swept it under the carpet.

She said the committee believed that an EirGrid commitment not to place an overhead line within 40 metres of a dwelling house as a precautionary measure was simply not good enough. She hoped EirGrid would comply with any new pylon policy and siting guidelines that were currently being drawn up by the Department of Environment, which is updating a report published in 2007. The project is due to be completed this year.

The EirGrid CEO Fintan Slye had said he personally “would have no issue living next to a pylon” because he knows “it is technically safe and I have no problem with that” (December 2013). If that was the attitude of the CEO then it was no wonder all health concerns had been totally dismissed by EirGrid, the CMAPC representative said.

She concluded: “He is entitled to his view, the same as anyone else, but I can assure this hearing that it is not the view of CMAPC or of the landowners, residents and communities that we represent”.

NEPPC

Padraig O’Reilly said there had been no stakeholder input on the routing of this major new power line, despite a recommendation in the March 2007 report to the Environment Department by an expert group on health effects of electromagnetic fields. In the contention of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign the application sought to impose wholly unacceptable and unnecessary risks on local communities in Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone.

He claimed EirGrid had failed to provide the Planning Board with an objective analysis of the documented risks relating to electromagnetic fields and high voltage power lines. Because EirGrid had failed even to consider mitigation against any of the risk factors, it left no option for the Board but to refuse the application.

MEATH COUPLE OUTLINE HEALTH RISKS

A County Meath couple claimed the cancer they were diagnosed with had been brought on by living “in a toxic environment” beneath a high-power voltage power line for over three decades. Paula and Mike Sheridan used to live at Curraghtown, near Dunshaughlin, in a house that is 35 metres from a 400kv high voltage line from Moneypoint running directly above their back garden towards a sub-station nearby at Woodland. Both of them were diagnosed with different types of cancer in recent years and have now moved to rented accommodation. Mrs Sheridan who is a medical scientist raised her concerns about the impact on health of electromagnetic fields.

She said they believed there was a connection between their ill health and their long-term exposure over thirty years to such high levels of an electromagnetic field. During all their suffering, the response from EirGrid had been appalling, they said. The company’s attitude along with the ESB during this sad and stressful period was to ignore and dismiss their concerns. This was despite a visit to their home by a senior EirGrid representative in August 2013 when the couple raised all their health issues.

EIRGRID REPLIES ON EMF FIELDS

EirGrid said there was an absence of any proven harm from electromagnetic fields. International experts brought in by the power transmission company explained that the scientific consensus was that there was no credible way to explain how electromagnetic fields could cause cancer. The overall results of scientific research on this issue did not confirm this fear, or explain how it could happen, according to EirGrid.

Dr William Bailey, one of two scientific consultants brought in from the United States, is an expert in applying assessment methods to environmental and occupational health issues. He explained how it was useful to understand the role of scientific research about electromagnetic fields and health. He said EMF fields could not reasonably be taken to be a carcinogen. He pointed out there was a difference between health hazards (such as being hit by a car) and health risks and the terms had to be used correctly. Along with Dr Gabor Mezei a senior managing scientist with over 25 years’ experience in health research, they set out to answer some of the points raised by the Sheridans.

EirGrid’s explanation in its supporting documentation is that electric and magnetic fields, or EMFs, are present in both natural and man-made environments. People everywhere are exposed to EMFs wherever they live. EirGrid says it operates the transmission grid to stringent safety standards set by national and European regulators. They set guidelines on the maximum amount of EMFs that the infrastructure can emit, and we work well within these limits.

EirGrid acknowledges that the issue of EMFs is an emotive and contentious one, powered by fears about health that are strongly held by some people. The company says some people fear that EMFs cause cancer. However, the overall results of scientific research on this issue do not confirm this fear, or explain how it could happen, according to the company. The concern that electric power lines may cause childhood cancer arose in 1979. It started with a single epidemiological study. Since then, many large-scale studies have investigated this initial finding. These studies have not convinced health authorities that EMFs are a cause of cancer, EirGrid points out.

 

 

 

INTERCONNECTOR DAY2

DAY TWO

This section dealt with the legal and statutory processes.  

Michael Fisher    Northern Standard

Esmond Keane SC for NEPPC told day two of the oral hearing in Carrickmacross that the North/South interconnector planning application by EirGrid was entirely invalid, fundamentally flawed and would be detrimental to landowners. He said EirGrid had not been given statutory power to construct the lines themselves and it was the ESB which had such power. So this was not a valid application from a person entitled to apply to carry out the development, he claimed.

The barrister said there was a possible conflict of interest in An Bord Pleanála deciding the planning application also being designated as the relevant authority in the Republic to manage an EU energy infrastructure Project of Common Interest. Referring to the environmental impact statement, Mr Keane said it failed to comply with what was required. There must be early and effective participation of the public in the consultation process. But this was utterly misconstrued by EirGrid. There had been no effective opportunity for the public to participate about how undergrounding of the power lines could be carried out.

Mr Keane said planning drawings showing proposed 400kV line pylons were utterly incomplete and inadequate. EirGrid said the towers ranged in height from 26m to 51m (80ft to 165ft). It was utterly inappropriate for members of the public not to be shown details of the insulators, conductors and points of connection for the towers in each area and how they related to their own homes. The drawings had failed utterly to give proper notice of what this development comprised of.

“One would have thought EirGrid on this occasion would have shown all the elements of the development and shown all elements of each tower at each location”, the barrister said. There was no idea from the drawings where a fibre optic cable mentioned in some of the documentation would go and if it would be strung between the pylons with the other wires.

Michael O’Donnell, a barrister representing Braccanby Irish Farm LLC and NV Irish Farm LLC in County Meath, told the hearing the entire basis of the planning application had been predicated on a fundamental error. It was not even clear who the applicant was because the construction work was purportedly to be carried out by the ESB, acting as an agent of EirGrid. He said the Planning Board was being put in an impossible position in deciding the application because it was also acting as the competent authority for a project of common interest.

EirGrid’s response was given by Brian Murray S.C. who confirmed that they were the applicants and all planning documentation stated this. So there could be no doubt who the applicant was. He explained that EirGrid exercised a close monitoring role regarding any construction carried out by the ESB on its behalf and such work was monitored by EirGrid engineers. EirGrid was the electricity system operator and was the proper applicant, he insisted. He said there was no legal inhibition on Bord Pleanála operating as a planning assessor and having a separate unit to consider PCIs.

EirGrid senior planning consultant Des Cox was asked by the NEPPC counsel Esmond Keane about arrangements for construction work around pylons and access routes. He explained that the temporary routes would not involve excavation or the laying of stones or wooden sleepers, but instead rubber mats or aluminium tracks would be laid on land required to gain access to pylon sites.

Asked if it would require the removal of hedges and the construction of entrances, Mr Cox replied that regarding hedges there would be a cutting down in some cases but not removal. Regarding a specific site near Kingscourt in County Cavan where the NEPPC claimed a new entrance would be needed, Mr Cox replied: “I do not know; I am not down at that level of detail”.

 

 

 

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.