ANGER EXPRESSED BY LANDOWNERS IN MONAGHAN OVER EIRGRID APPLICATION FOR N/S INTERCONNECTOR
Michael Fisher Northern Standard Thursday 25th June
Landowners in South Monaghan whose farms and property are along the route of the proposed EirGrid North/South electricity interconnector say it would ruin their livelihoods for generations to come and would cause the biggest destruction ever seen in Ireland. Many of them came to Aughnamullen social centre on Monday night to see for themselves the full extend of the EirGrid plans which were submitted earlier this month to An Bord Pleanála. The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee had obtained a hard copy of the application and large folders were spread out over a long table with maps showing the route of the proposed overground line, including the section close to Lough Egish.
EirGrid and its northern counterpart plan to construct 401 new pylons carrying an overhead 400kV supply line across five counties including Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. 109 of the towers would be erected in Monaghan. The power line from Woodland near Batterstown in County Meath to Turleenan near Dungannon in County Tyrone and passing across the border at Lemgare near Clontibret into County Armagh would be one of the biggest infrastructure developments on the island and so it was designated a Project of Common Interest by the European Commission
There is now a ten weeks period of statutory public consultation, running until Monday August 24th.
The Secretary of the Anti-Pylon Committee Mary Marron said they had organised three meetings in Aughnamullen, Cremartin and Corduff during the week to enable landowners to see exactly how their properties would be affected. They were also able to advise them about making submissions to An Bord Pleanála and what they needed to concentrate on. The committee will be taking its own legal advice on the application, she said.
The maps on the table set out how pylons would be erected in townlands such as Cornasassonagh and Corrinenty. Landowners continued to question why they were being treated as second-class citizens, because the underground option was being considered for two other major electricity supply projects. They claimed the project would devalue their land. They felt that the plans to erect pylons would turn their land into construction sites and questioned the methods EirGrid would use for accessing their property.
LOCAL POLITICIANS OPPOSE EIRGRID PLANS
Monaghan County Council has set up a sub-committee to discuss the interconnector application. It will meet in Castleblayney on July 13th and draw up a response. The Ballybay Clones Municipal District will also be making a submission objecting to EirGrid’s North/South Interconnector project.
COUNCILLOR SEAMUS COYLE
Fianna Fáil Councillor Seamus Coyle, a farmer from Latton, said the EirGrid proposals were totally unacceptable to local landowners. He claimed that the company had not gone out onto the ground and looked at the situation for individual farmers regarding access to their property for the construction work on the pylons. He said the project was contrary to the Monaghan County Council development plan 2013-19 and the sustainable development of the county. He told the Northern Standard it was important that councillors supported the concerns of local people in relation to this project. He claimed the local access roads needed for EirGrid construction work would be totally unfit for purpose in areas such as Corduff and Raferagh. He claimed that the electricity transmission company had not gone out onto the ground to inspect properties that would be affected, but had done an aerial survey instead. This was in contrast to the approach adopted by SONI in the North, where engineers had walked almost 97% of the planned route. He claimed EirGrid had not taken into account the implications for fauna and wildlife in the countryside as well as heritage spots such as ancient burial grounds.
MATT CARTHY MEP
Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West Matt Carthy called on the public to engage with the consultation process and to outline their concerns. He said:
“Unfortunately, due to the Strategic Infrastructure Act enacted by the Fianna Fáil government with the support of Fine Gael, the planning process for the North/South Interconnector is, in my view, flawed. However, that should not prevent interested individuals and communities engaging with the public consultation process during which time the public may provide submissions and observations to An Bord Pléanala. The consultation closes at 5.30pm on Monday 24th August.”
Mr Carthy said Sinn Féin representatives had been working closely with all those groups and communities in Counties Monaghan, Armagh, Cavan, Tyrone and Meath who have been engaged in a campaign since 2007 against the EirGrid and NIE/SONI plans to impose 400kv overhead power lines and associated pylons on their landscapes.
“The concerns are very real; there are genuine worries for health, our environment, the landscape, the economic development of the areas concerned. The communities concerned have made their position crystal clear: the North/South Interconnector can only proceed on the basis that it is undergrounded. Sinn Féin fully supports that position and we will be preparing our own submission to An Bord Pléanala on this issue”.
“This project, despite 97% landowner opposition, is the only EirGrid project that remains unchanged since 2009 following its exclusion from the EirGrid national review. Report after report, including one published by the government appointed International expert commission have clearly proved that undergrounding of the power lines is both possible and feasible. Indeed, many argue that in the medium to long term, undergrounding is economically beneficial. I am calling on the public to take this opportunity to outline their position on this project and ensure that their voice is heard”, the MEP said.
€5000 CHARGE FOR HARD COPY OF EIRGRID APPLICATION
Matt Carthy was also critical of EirGrid for charging members of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC) €5000 for each hard copy of the planning application. The group had requested four copies of the application for their members and had also asked EirGrid to provide a hard copy to each landowner affected by the application.
Commenting on the correspondence between the NEPPC and EirGrid officials, the MEP said:
“It is completely outrageous that a full hard copy of this planning application costs €5000. I agree with the members of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign that the astronomical costs involved in obtaining a copy of this application will put it out of the reach of many in the community affected by the proposed pylons.”
“The message from the local communities could not be clearer – they do not want overhead pylons blighting some of the most historical landscapes of this country and presenting a real danger to their communities. This is another slap in the face to the community who have had to listen to PR exercise after PR exercise from EirGrid stating their full commitment to engage with local communities on the proposed pylons.”
Mr Carthy went on: “While I acknowledge that soft copies of the application are provided on CD, many people need access to a hard copy for various reasons and it would be expected at the least that the landowners affected could receive a copy of the application. EirGrid cannot expect to be to be taken seriously on its claims of extensive public consultation while communities are effectively excluded from the planning process and I am calling on the company to make the application more readily available.”
SEAN CONLAN T.D.
The Fine Gael T.D. Sean Conlan attended the information evening at Aughnamullen. He said the County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee deserved great credit for the effort they have put into organising the series of meetings this week to explain to the landowners affected in detail exactly what Eirgrid proposed to do on their land. He strongly encouraged anyone who wanted to find out further information in respect of the proposed route and how it affected their property and their community and who wished to obtain advice in relation to submitting a submission to An Bord Pleanála to contact the committee.
Deputy Conlan said: “The resilience and collective objection of the community as a whole to this application is paramount in trying to achieve our ultimate goal of having this project undergrounded. It is very important that the community continues to stand together to object to this new application by EirGrid to overground the North/South interconnector. By standing together as one the community stands the best chance of defeating EirGrid in their endeavours to put this project overground. It is very clear to me that the communities affected are more determined than ever that EirGrid are defeated.”
“I am available at any time to provide any advice or any assistance I can to members of the community and landowners who wish to make submissions detailing their concerns about EirGrid’s application and how it affects them, their families, their farms and their community. I want to reassure everybody in all the communities affected that I remain fully opposed to the overgrounding of this project by EirGrid. I will be making my own submission to An Bord Pleanála opposing EirGrid’s application to put the interconnector overground.”
COUNCILLOR EUGENE BANNIGAN
Fine Gael Councillor Eugene Bannigan also attended the information evenings. He told the Northern Standard: “Over the last number of weeks EirGrid have published their plans for a new application to an Bord Pleanála where they are looking to build 401 new pylons over five counties. However EirGrid have not walked the full route so they don’t know what damage they could do to wildlife and protected species in the surrounding areas.”
Councillor Bannigan went on: “The recent launch of new farming schemes shows certain requirements are needed in order to be granted acceptance to the scheme, and this means land will be let go wild for Gaming and Wild Bird cover. So if a farmer on the grid is planning to let some of their crops go wild in order to meet these certain requirements, then the Department of Agriculture must help out, and if several farmers along the grid do this then it can slow up the process with An Bord Pleanála, and on the other hand you have the Department for Energy trying to let this interconnector grid go up. It doesn’t make sense as on one hand the government is trying to help farmers and this means let land go wild, and on the other hand, the government is trying to let EirGrid go ahead. So it’s the government versus the government.”
BRENDAN SMITH TD
Fianna Fáil T.D. for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has criticised the Communications Minister Alex White for refusing to consider a motion by Monaghan County Council calling for the cessation of work on the North/South Interconnector so that the project could be undergrounded. The motion came on foot of comments made by EirGrid’s Chief Executive during a meeting of the Oireachtas Communications Committee, when he admitted that the undergrounding of the lines was technically feasible.
Deputy Smith commented, “I am extremely disappointed by Minister Alex White’s stance on this issue. Despite submitting a range of Parliamentary Questions raising concerns about the fact that the underground option was not being considered, he failed to give any straight answers, choosing to evade the specific questions.
“The North-South interconnector is an extremely contentious issue here on the border. People have grave concerns about the fact that the Government appears to be content to press ahead with the overhead lines option, without giving due consideration to the possibility of undergrounding them. This is despite the fact that the head of EirGrid told the Oireachtas Communications Committee that it is technically feasible to put the lines underground.
“It is extremely unfair that the Government is continuing to refuse a review of the North-South interconnector plans, especially in light of the fact that the other two Grid Link projects are being reconsidered. People here feel as if they are being ignored by this Government, which is refusing to take their concerns on board, and is now even refusing to give credible answers to Parliamentary Questions, and has now effectively passed the buck back to Eirgrid.
“I am very disappointed with the Minister’s evasive and hands-off approach to this issue. There has been a substantial reduction in the potential cost of the undergrounding project, yet Minister White is refusing to reconsider. This is not good enough and the people of Cavan and Monaghan will simply not accept it. I will be continuing to put Minister White under pressure to review this project to ensure a safe and secure energy supply for people living on the border”, Deputy Smith concluded.
QUESTION: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the recent decision by EirGrid to submit a planning application for the North South Interconnector without consideration being given to the options of undergrounding this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Brendan Smith.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Alex White)
In January 2014, an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was established to oversee the integrity of the process being undertaken by EirGrid to report on comprehensive, route-specific studies of overhead and underground options for both the Grid Link (GL) and Grid West (GW) projects. While the North South Transmission Line project (N/S) is outside the IEP’s Terms of Reference, the IEP did agree, on foot of a request by my predecessor, to provide an opinion on the compatibility of the methodologies, to be employed on the GL and GW projects with what had already been done on the N/S project up to and including 2 May 2014, being the date that the IEP decided to examine the N/S project.
Having considered and discussed all of the material, the Panel issued a statement on 1 July 2014, indicating its unanimous opinion that, in all material respects, what had already been done on the N/S project is compatible with the methodologies being employed on the GW and GL projects.
On 27 March 2015 EirGrid published a new independently peer reviewed draft Strategy which allows for the achievement of an optimal balance between the competing demands of publicly consulting on necessary network development, choosing the best emerging technology options for that development, and minimising new build. The draft strategy found that there remains a clear need for the North South transmission line, and that the existing proposal for a 400kV overhead line remains the most appropriate solution for the project.