INTERCONNECTOR DAY13

Lemgare_Mass_Rock.jpg

Lemgare Mass Rock  Pic: Blackquarterfox (own work)                                                                                                         (Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

 

This section dealt with cultural heritage

Shirley Clerkin, heritage officer, represented Monaghan County Council along with senior planner Toirleach Gourley. At the start of the proceedings the presiding inspector was asked to allow a consultant archaeologist for EirGrid Declan Moore to add new information regarding four monuments, one of them in Co. Monaghan and the others in Meath, to the environmental impact statement.

LEMGARE MASS ROCK

Mr Moore explained that a new cultural heritage monument had been added to the archaeological survey database since completion of the evaluation of the North/South interconnector. The site was uploaded to the National Monuments Service historic environment viewer on 25th January 2016 by Michael Moore (archaeologist with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht).

Lemgare Mass Rock is located to the east of a prominent rock outcrop known as the Lemgare rocks in the townland of Lemgare, Co. Monaghan (beside the border with Co. Armagh). The Mass Rock is approximately 30m to the east of one of the proposed pylons and approximately 25m from the overhead power line on an elevated site overgrown with gorse and furze (separate field). The site is located just down from the summit of Lemgare Rocks.

A west-facing rock face is the traditional location of a venue where Mass was celebrated in Penal times and possibly as early as the mid-1700s, according to a survey carried out by Rev. Pádraig Ó Gallachair in 1957 on behalf of the Diocese of Clogher. The information regarding the exact location of the Mass rock was scant; a ‘Report on the state of Popery of 1731’ identifies the site as being in the Parish of Clontibret and the entry reads ‘one Altar made of earth & stones uncovered’. The precise location was unknown at the time of the compilation of the EIS.

Declan Moore’s evaluation is that there will be no direct physical impact. The sensitivity of the site to impacts on setting was found to be high. The magnitude of the impact on the site was found to be substantial. The overall significance on the impact of the proposed interconnector on the setting of the site was considered to be significant.

TELTOWN

According to the EirGrid consultant, three recorded monuments in County Meath were added to the archaeological survey database since he completed his evaluation of the North-South interconnector at Teltown Church, the importance of which was to be raised later in the proceedings. A cross, a cross-inscribed stone and rock art (located in the graveyard) were uploaded in January. Despite these additions the overall significance of the impact on the setting of Teltown Church remained ‘moderate negative’, as noted in the environmental impact statement.

MONAGHAN HERITAGE

In a submission about the impact of the EirGrid plans, Monaghan County Council heritage officer Shirley Clerkin said there were 15 archaeological sites containing 34 megalithic tombs that would be permanently impacted. Two demesnes at Tully House and Shantonagh would be affected and the company’s response had been insufficient. One of the proposed access routes for construction of two towers passed beside a protected circular fort at Latnakelly. There was a high risk that the perimeter wall would be damaged by increased heavy traffic on the laneway. The EirGrid archaeologist said in this location the contractor would be made aware of the monument to ensure no damage occurred and would be required to use lighter machinery to reduce vibrations from construction traffic.

The heritage officer pointed out that on the proposed route, there was a particular cluster of megalithic tombs in the area from Cornamucklagh South going northwards to Lennan. There might be added potential for archaeological evidence of neolithic settlement or other monuments in this area. She stressed that it would be important a photographic analysis of the visual impact was provided before the development went ahead. EirGrid said the portal tomb at Lennan (situated prominently on a drumlin) was about 250m away from the route of the power lines in an area not accessible by the general public. The overall impact of the development on the setting remained the same as stated in the environmental assessment, namely significant.

Monaghan County Council has been leading a regional Black Pig’s Dyke project since 2014. This Bronze Age or Iron Age fortification was a recorded monument on the national register. There were obvious surface remains along some of its length in County Monaghan, at the east, south of Lough Muckno and to the west of the county below Scotshouse. The extensive lines of ditches which spread into neighbouring counties are considered to be amongst the oldest, largest and most celebrated land boundaries in prehistoric Europe.

The EirGrid report by consultant archaeologist Declan Moore said the site was believed to have been a single defensive earthwork running from Sligo to Louth and presently was untraceable for most of its length. Parts of the earthwork had been identified in County Cavan just east of Bellananagh and in County Monaghan. The company said it was possible that the proposed line route might pass over the subsurface remains of this earthwork.

Mr Moore was asked by the presiding inspector to outline measures that would be taken to protect historic monuments that were near proposed towers and access routes. He explained what would be done in specific cases such as at Latnakelly fort and Corrinenty.

MEATH HERITAGE

A leading Irish archaeologist from Co. Meath who excavated the passage tomb at Knowth informed the hearing that it would be a travesty to put power lines near the equally historic Bronze Age site at Teltown (Tealtainn). The assessment of Professor George Eogan from Nobber was read into the record by architect John Clancy from Batterstown.

Professor Eogan said the Tealtainn/Donaghpatrick heritage complex comprised one of the treasures of early Ireland and was rich in archaeology and history. The unspoilt rural landscape reflected that important heritage which he said must be preserved for present and future generations.

Professor Eogan continued: “I have consulted the plans for this proposed project and the prospect of eight massive pylons traversing this beautiful landscape is unthinkable. Not only would the pylons be a massive visual intrusion, but the ground works involved in their construction and erection will have a very detrimental effect on the hitherto undisturbed archaeological deposits.”

“The proposed erection of pylons with their massive visual and destructive intrusion on this unspoilt landscape would be a travesty for which no possible justification can be made. I sincerely hope that permission will not be granted for it to proceed”, Professor Eogan stated.

According to his assessment, Tealtainn is particularly important as it was where significant ecclesiastical and secular events took place in the past. Going right back to the Bronze Age examples of rock art of the period have been discovered in the ancient graveyard there, which also contained a font and sundial of the Early Christian period. In late prehistoric and early historic times the famous Tealtainn games were held annually, presided over by the High King. Professor Eogan said it was vital that the area be left undisturbed so as to allow for further investigation.

Donaghpatrick was another important element of the complex. The modern church incorporated the remains of  a 14th- 15th century tower house. St Patrick established a church there, hence the name. Across the road from the church were very impressive remains of a triple-banked ring fort, Rath Aithir.

Professor Eogan’s letter to the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society was quoted by the Society’s Past President John Clancy from Batterstown when he made a submission to the Bord Pleanála oral hearing, now in its fifth week. Meanwhile in Dublin, a High Court challenge by the North East Pylon Pressure Group continued last Thursday and was again adjourned.

Mr Clancy, an architect, told the presiding inspector that the proposed interconnector route a few kilometres from the Hill of Tara and near other important archaeological sites would have a serious cost to our landscape and heritage and no benefit for electricity consumers. He explained that he lived 180m from a route of pylons near the ESB sub-station at Woodland, where the proposed 400kV interconnector will link into the transmission system. The pastoral landscape had been changed forever when the towers carrying six cables for a 220kV line were erected, he said.

When future generations wrote the history of how they had treated Meath’s heritage, Mr Clancy wondered if the insertion of pylons and transmission lines would be seen as yet another mistake similar to the M3 motorway as the infrastructure passed through the Teltown landscape and near the archaeological complexes of Brittas, Cruicetown, Rahood and Raffin. Although it was a major piece of important infrastructure, there was no proper provision for it in the Meath County Development Plan 2013-19. The route through Meath should therefore be excluded when Bord Pleanála made its determination, he told the presiding inspector.

Mr Clancy referred to photomontages provided by EirGrid showing what pylons would look like in key areas such as the Hill of Tara, Brittas and Bective Abbey. He said they were insufficient to arrive at a clear view of the true visual impact and further studies were required, as had happened with the N2 Slane Bypass inquiry. Consultant architect for EirGrid Joerg Schulze said all photomontages had been produced to the current best practice guidelines.

Meath County Council Heritage Officer Loreto Guinan said the Hill of Tara contained 150 recorded monuments and was one of the most culturally significant places in Ireland. It was a candidate for designation as a UNESCO world heritage site. The proposed interconnector development posed key questions as to whether it was likely to comproise the nomination made in 2010. She told the presiding inspector an independent world heritage expert should be asked to make an impact assessment, based on international standards and benchmarks.

Consultant archaeologist for EirGrid Declan Moore went through the environmental impact assessment for various sites close to the line of the proposed route. The magnitude of the impact of the proposed development on the setting of the Tara Complex would be minor. Should the development proceed, it would have a permanent, slight, negative impact on the setting of Tara.

In the Teltown area, no known archaeological monuments would be directly, physically impacted upon by the proposed development. Because of its high archaeological potential and as previously unrecorded archaeological remains could be found during the construction of the towers, mitigation measures were recommended.

The magnitude of the impact of the proposed development on the setting of Rath Dhu, the fort thought to be the centre for the ancient Teltown funeral games, was considered to be minor with the overall significance of the impact on the setting of the monument deemed to be slight.

Although the proposed power lines were almost 700m from Teltown church, a number of the towers associated with the development would be visible as it passed to the east. The magnitude of the impact of the proposed development was found to be substantial. The overall significance of the impact on the setting of Teltown church was found to be moderate negative.

EirGrid is suggesting that a licensed archaeologist supervises any excavations in advance of the construction of towers, thereby ensuring the early identification of archaeological deposits and minimal loss to the archaeological record. The National Monuments Service of the DAHG and the National Museum of Ireland would be consulted immediately should archaeology be discovered. An archaeologist would also monitor site access and construction works.

EirGrid’s assessment said the proposed development would not directly inhibit any tourist and amenity activities along the route of the power lines. However the reduction in the visual amenity of a local area might be perceived as reducing the attractiveness of an area used for tourist and amenity related activities. There would be a direct though localised visual impact on a short section of the Boyne Valley driving route, as the line crossed this route at two locations close to Bective Abbey and Gibstown. There would be direct but limited visibility when viewed from specific locations within Bective Abbey.

Other outdoor amenity areas and activities, including the location of Gibstown Drive-In Bingo, were in close proximity to the proposed development. While the overhead line would be visible from these areas and there might be a reduction in the visual amenity, it was unlikely to prohibit recreational activities continuing at these locations.

 

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INTERCONNECTOR DAY12

This section dealt with human beings: tourism and amenity

Dympna Condra, tourism officer Monaghan County Council told the presiding inspector the proposed pylons and power lines would affect their ability to sell Monaghan as a tourist destination, especially for angling. Landscape and the natural environment were important elements in attracting visitors to County Monaghan. She pointed out that the development had the potential to impact adversely impact on tourism in Monaghan in general, owing to the visual impact upon the landscape.

A line of pylons constituted a visual intrusion on the landscape. The promotion of Monaghan as a destination for outdoor activities such as angling, walking, cycling, golf, horse riding and forest parks would be impacted by the proposed development, particularly in terms of visual impact.

ANGLING

The tourism officer said angling was an extremely important niche product for Co. Monaghan. The Council’s submission had outlined their concern about the visual impact in the Castleblayney, Ballybay and Carrickmacross lakelands area, and particularly at Lough Morne and Lough Egish. Their view was that this visual impact might adversely affect angling visitor numbers. She said EirGrid’s response that this was unlikely to prohibit activities continuing at these locations lacked detail as to how this conclusion had been arrived at, she said.

Dympna Condra pointed out that Monaghan County Council had invested hugely in the angling product in recent years, particularly, but not exclusively, at Lough Muckno. This had led to a huge increase in the numbers of angling tourists to Monaghan in the last three years, with Lough Muckno being the key attractor.

However, anglers tended to move around to fish at different lakes in the vicinity and the proposed development ran through a substantial part of this area. Lough Muckno has moved from having one or two dwindling angling festivals in 2012 to having twelve festivals scheduled for 2016, most of which attracted international anglers, who spread out to other lakes in the area. In addition, an angling festival is being revived in Carrickmacross and this would also augment the number of anglers to this wider area. In our experience over the last number of years, these were repeat visitors as Monaghan had a growing reputation for catering for the angling visitor.

IMPACT DURING CONSTRUCTION

EirGrid had stated that ‘whilst the visual effects of the construction of the pylons are assessed as being “temporary and locally significant” this would be unlikely to be significant for tourism owing to a number of factors. These included the generally transitory nature of tourists during an Irish rural holiday stay, moving between locations rather than remaining in one place for an extended period of time. Monaghan County Council maintains that this does not apply to the repeat angling visitor.

The tourism assessment by EirGrid was based on the general tourist market and an effort was made to locate the proposed development away from these facilities. However, the plethora of lakes in the Ballybay-Castleblayney area were key assets to the angling visitor and this did not seem to have been taken into account, according to the tourism officer.

Dympna Condra noted that it was Failte Ireland’s view that tourism factors (in particular the landscape) had been insufficiently developed in EirGrid’s assessment and that a further evaluation of the potential development on the landscape character of the area should be undertaken. She said the Council concurred with this view that tourism and landscape character were closely aligned. A group of angling journalists from the UK had visited Lough Egish last week making videos. So the visual aspect of the landscape was important for them.

The County Council’s submission to An Bord Pleanála last August pointed out there were a number of small lakes in this angling heartland. It expressed concern that the proximity of the line of pylons to some of these lakes might impact significantly on the angling amenity.

Lough Egish – this 117 hectare lake is a valuable pike fishery.

Lough Morne – this 45 hectare lake is a good game fishery and contains brown trout. Examples of other lakes in the general vicinity of the proposed line include:-

Corlatt Lake/Shantonagh Lake – these lakes drain into the Knappagh River and the River Annalee. It must be noted that the majority of these waters contain most of the coarse fish species with the exception of bream and tench but are regarded as very good pike fisheries.

Tonyscallon Lake – this lake covers an area of approximately three hectares and contains very good bream.

WALKING


The Monaghan Way is a 56.5km long distance walking route between Clontibret and Inniskeen. It is a stimulating combination of quiet country roads, cross country trekking, riverside walkways and lakeside approaches. Reflecting the Monaghan countryside, the walk mixes gentle sloping hill gradients with flat stretches of open countryside. There are no long or steep climbs and the route reaches a maximum altitude of 317m at the summit of Mullyash.

Eirgrid has accepted that along a 2km section of the Monaghan Way which runs parallel to and then crosses the power line route, walkers “will experience open views of towers at close proximity where there is no intervening vegetation, resulting in localised significant visual effects”. The tourism officer said this was a particular worry for those walkers choosing to start in Clontibret and it might have a significant impact on the numbers using the route.

Toirleach Gourley senior planner Monaghan County Council said there would be knock-on effects for visitors and on the landscape setting with its many lakes. He expressed fresh concern that two of the photomontages displayed by EirGrid showing the impact on the Monaghan Way at Lemgare Rocks near Clontibret and at Lough Morne near Lough Egish did not show the two most prominent pylons along the route which were both situated on high ground.

Brendan Allen a senior planner with ESB International said in making their assessment for EirGrid, they had identified the chief tourism assets in Monaghan from Failte Ireland records and the Co. Monaghan development plan, as well as various tourism websites. The Irish Trails website had provided them with information about the Monaghan Way which showed it started in Monaghan town and it was therefore described as being 64km in length. He said it had not been possible to obtain visitor statistics for the walking route, unlike many other trails where volunteer counters were used to compile the figures.

He said the environmental impact statement had acknowledged that fishing and angling tourism were important for Co. Monaghan. He told the hearing the setting of some of the lakes would be changed by the interconnector project. Regarding the impact of construction activity, Mr Allen said this would be broken up over short periods of time at various locations. The effects would pass over time, he added.

He said it was important to point out that in the route selection they had avoided the main tourism assets that were identified in the county plan. But it was not possible to avoid fully all tourism assets, such as the road where the power lines cross the Monaghan Way at Lemgare Rocks. Mr Allen said they had given due consideration to the visual impact at this point and at Lough Morne. According to the company, “any impact on local tourism resulting from the construction and operation of the proposed interconnector…must be considered in respect of the strategic need for and importance of the project, and the careful consideration of alternative routes.”

Tourism and leisure consultant Ken Glass for EirGrid said the impact statement had concluded that “the operation of the proposed development will not directly inhibit any tourist and amenity activities along its route.”

This section dealt with air (noise; vibration; climate)

An environmental health officer with Monaghan County Council Dermot McCague said they would have to discuss construction noise at the stage the pylons were being erected. He hoped they could come to an agreement with the developer to consult the Council about measures to be taken to reduce the impact on residents at each tower location. Work would be carried out during daylight hours and would have to be with the permission of the Council.

Barry Sheridan an acoustics consultant for EirGrid said the mitigation measures to be taken had been listed in the application and the response to submissions. It was predicted that the construction phase would result in a moderate, temporary and transient noise impact. Portable noise barriers would be used to screen the noise from machinery and piling work. Mr Sheridan was asked a series of questions by the presiding inspector about how the noise levels were measured.

The consultant explained the impact of operational noise on the power lines, such as turbulent wind noise (which occurred rarely on 400kV lines) and potential corona discharge. The latter became higher and might become audible in wet weather and in close proximity to the line. But on such occasions the background noise level of rainfall and wind tended to mask the noise from the transmission line.

EirGrid said no significant noise impact on animals was predicted to arise from the operation of the proposed line. Noise from the construction phase of the project would be similar to any other building site and should not cause any significant impact to livestock. Regarding operational noise such as gap sparking on the power lines, an equine specialist Michael Sadlier said most animals became habituated to noises. Once they realised there was no threat then they no longer responded.

A consultant occupational and environmental physician Dr Martin Hogan from UCC on behalf of EirGrid said the potential health aspects of noise had been dealt with in the environmental impact assessment. The standards and guidelines used in the appraisal were very stringent and designed to protect the most sensitive and vulnerable, he said. Dr Hogan was asked about the potential effect of the power lines on a person with autism. He said there was no real reason to suspect that people with ASD would be adversely affected by the project.

The hearing resumes this morning (Thursday) at the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross with a module on cultural heritage. Officials from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are due to give their opinion about the impact of the interconnector on various sites in Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.

HEARING SCHEDULE

The presiding inspector Breda Gannon said she intended to continue the hearing on the following days (the schedule is usually posted daily on the Bord Pleanála website):

Week 5  Monday to Thursday  4th-7th April

Week 6 Monday to Thursday 11th to 14th April

Week 7 Monday to Wednesday 18th to 20th April

Week 8 Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th April

Week 9 Tuesday 3rd to Thursday 5th May

Week 10 Monday 9th to Friday 14th May (dates updated on 20/04/16)

HIGH COURT APPLICATION

The North East Pylon Pressure Campaign will today (Thursday) before Mr Justice Humphreys at the High Court in Dublin continue with an application for leave to apply for a judicial review. Lawyers for the group have twice requested the presiding inspector to adjourn the hearing. But she has decided to continue with what she described as an “information gathering” exercise and said she would be reporting back to the Planning Board.

 

 

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 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 DAY9

This section dealt with construction, including temporary access routes

At the start of the hearing on Wednesday, presiding inspector Breda Gannon said she understood the concerns and difficulties expressed the previous day about the new information on temporary access routes that had been presented by EirGrid. She said she had decided to continue the hearing, the purpose of which was to act as an information gathering exercise to explore complex matters. She repeated her comments on the opening day, that the ultimate decision on the application rested with An Bord Pleanála, which would consider all matters raised and would have a number of options open to it. Her role was not to make a ruling on an item by item basis, she said. She invited observers and EirGrid to continue discussion on the construction module.

A lawyer for the NEPPC Michael O’Donnell BL said he had to accept the ruling but asked the inspector if she would agree to adjourn proceedings to allow an application to be made in court. This was rejected. The inspector said the NEPPC could continue to participate at any stage.

Robert Arthur of ESB International gave more details of the type of towers along the line, including a number of angle towers. Another ESBI consultant Jarlath Doyle explained details of the construction process, including the types of vehicles that would be used to bring concrete into fields where the steel pylons would be erected. It was also explained that ‘durabase’ matting was to be laid where necessary to provide access for vehicles in fields. These could be left in place for the duration of the construction process.

As an affected landowner with a pedigree Charolais herd on the family’s farm, Mary Marron of the CMAPC wanted to know if that meant the matting would be there for a span of three years. She called on EirGrid to be more specific about the fences that would be used to keep livestock away from the construction sites. Who was going to be responsible for the livestock and to whom could they address any queries relating to construction issues. It seemed that EirGrid was expecting each landowner to take responsibility for their animals and that was unacceptable.

Nigel Hillis of CMAPC pointed out that the type of fencing proposed along access routes was unsuitable for an agricultural setting. The pictures provided by EirGrid showed individual units of steel fencing joined together and anchored in blocks. He said such fencing was designed to keep people out, not animals and it would not stop a bull knocking it down. There was no proposal by the company to put up staked fencing with barbed wire, which is what farmers would use on their land.

Regarding the methodology used by the EirGrid consultants to investigate proposed access routes, Mr Hillis asked one of them if he had put on wellingtons and walked the dotted line shown on one of the maps leading to a proposed pylon site. He declined to answer the question. Some of his colleagues gave details later of how aerial photography combined with more recent Google mapping had allowed them to examine the possible routes, without having to contact landowners and access individual holdings.

Mr Hillis observed that the methodology of getting access to pylon sites was totally wrong. He explained that their committee had met on Tuesday evening and had decided they would not be returning as a group to the first part of the oral hearing.

Before departing Mary Marron said landowners should have been made aware of proposed changes. She asked EirGrid to provide proper photos of the type of machinery that would be used to access the pylon sites and asked for maps to show where matting would be laid. She requested the company to provide specific information on these issues.

Monaghan County Council senior planner Toirleach Gourley raised a number of questions with EirGrid about the details shown in some of the maps they had provided about the route of the line. He said the company had made an insufficient response to the concerns the Council had raised in their response to the planning application last August. Mr Gourley claimed a number of photomontages had limited legibility, such as one showing the point where the interconnector would cross the main N2 road at Annyalla.

A consultant landscape architect Joerg Schulze for EirGrid explained how he had drawn up the proposed route for the line, taking into account the relevant constraints such as avoiding residential areas where possible, sites of archaeological importance and loughs. In the drumlin landscape of County Monaghan it was not possible to avoid all drumlins but he believed he had found the best routing possible.

Mr Gourley said he was not convinced that putting pylons along the top of drumlins such as near Lough Egish was the ultimate choice. The planner also pointed out that Monaghan County Council had received no drawings showing the height and colour of the temporary buildings (portakabins) which EirGrid proposed to erect at a construction material storage yard beside the N2 at Monaltyduff/Monatybane outside Carrickmacross.

INTERCONNECTOR DAY8

This section dealt with construction, including temporary access routes

Following a request by EirGrid’s lawyer Brian Murray SC, the presiding inspector allowed a change in how the modules had operated until then. The County Monaghan Anti Pylon Committee had been due to begin Tuesday’s proceedings with comments on the plans for construction of the 299 pylons in the Republic. Robert Arthur, transmission lines manager with ESB International who are acting as consultants for EirGrid, made a presentation in which he gave details of nineteen modifications to temporary access routes for tower sites. These are in addition to six routes which had been identified by an EirGrid representative at the start of the hearing.

MODIFIED ACCESS ROUTES

For all these ‘modified access routes’ he said they would be making use of existing access onto land and no new land holdings would be involved. He said 95 landowners had made submissions by January when they had been asked to identify issues regarding temporary access routes of which there were 584. But no direct contact had been made with any land owner.

In a document produced for the inspectors Mr Arthur described what he said were mapping anomalies that had arisen primarily from discrepancies in the translation of site vantage survey records onto the Environmental Impact statement drawings. In other words, while an access route might have been identified from an existing field gate, the access route from this existing gate to a tower location was incorrectly captured on the EIS mapping.

HEARING A FARCE AND CHARADE: NEPPC

A barrister for the NEPPC Michael O’Donnell BL told the inspectors the oral hearing had turned into a farce. He said the hearing could not proceed any further and called for it to be abandoned. He claimed that a new public notice would now have to be issued about the development and this was the only appropriate manner under the planning act. The responses by Mr Arthur had been entirely inadequate and inappropriate, he said.

Counsel for the NEPPC Esmond Keane SC described some of Mr Arthur’s replies as an insult to the integrity and intelligence of every member of the public. Some replies were ‘rubbish’ and he had not given a meaningful response. Mr Keane said it appeared EirGrid had produced utterly radical changes and was planning to go through to the pylon construction points using access to private homes in a number of cases, despite the company’s own environmental guidelines. He said there were many difficulties with the planning application, including some technical drawings that had been provided for the route design plan and profile. On one of them the scale was shown as a tiny bar at the top of the page. It also left ordinary members of the public guessing where ground level was shown.

This was different he said from the detailed drawings of the proposed towers and conductors produced by ESB International for the corresponding application in Northern Ireland by the EirGrid subsidiary SONI. In Tyrone and Armagh, stone roads were proposed to be constructed on just over half the 102 tower locations.

He also questioned Mr Arthur in detail on a proposal for washing down vehicles to remove mud and organic material from vehicles exiting tower sites. The ESB International representative said it was his understanding that vehicles would be washed down before they entered the temporary work area around the pylons. “That doesn’t make sense”, Mr Keane remarked.

Padraig O’Reilly of the NEPPC said the hearing had developed into a charade second time round and called on the inspectors not to go ahead with it. Unless Bord Pleanála responded in a meaningful way then his group would not be taking any further part.

Mary Marron of CMAPC said nineteen landowners did not know where access roads would be going over their land. They had no faith in any sense of fairness if the oral hearing continued and the Monaghan group fully backed the NEPPC stance.

EirGrid lawyer Brian Murray SC said the hearing should go ahead as only 19 out of 584 access routes were involved and EirGrid could begin notifying the affected landowners during the next week. The second part had been set aside to hear from individual landowners.

Michael O’Donnell BL for the NEPPC claimed this amounted to an acknowledgement by EirGrid that the hearing could not proceed, as it would now be necessary to issue a new public notice so that all affected landowners along with neighbours and members of the public could be informed.

But Jarlath Fitzsimons SC for EirGrid pointed out that development consent was not required for access routes. These had been included in the documentation. They formed part of the project and must be looked at by the Planning Board when they were considering the totality of the application. There was no requirement for a new notification, in EirGrid’s view.

The presiding inspector said she would give a decision on whether the hearing would continue when the proceedings opened on Wednesday.

 

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.