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Corrib hearing opens to fiery debate

Áine Ryan - Mayo News

FOURTEEN years after the Corrib gas field was discovered 83 kilometres off the Mayo coastline, An Bord Pleanála last week reopened an oral hearing into Shell E&P Ireland’s planning application for the last section of the controversial high-pressure gas pipeline in Belmullet.
And, as has been typical of this contentious development – which has caused bitter divides in the local community – a row, over a key section of the pipeline, erupted shortly after board  Inspector  Martin Nolan opened proceedings. The same issue led to a walk-out by locals at last year’s hearing.
“Part of the route was left out of the application and still is and the hearing should not go ahead on this basis,” said retired teacher, Ed Moran.
This concern was echoed by Eoin Ó Leidhin of Rossport Solidarity Camp who also sought clarification about the matter.
Mr Ó Leidhin observed that a fundamental issue related to where the pipeline began and ended.
Parish Priest of Kilcommon, Father Michael Nallen. said: “In justice to the receiving community, people living locally need clarity about what’s happening. You (Inspector Nolan) have asked us to bear with you. But the people have been badly mistreated by the agents of the State.”
Father Nallen and another local priest, Father Kevin Hegarty, who has been vocal in his support of the project, are both due to make submissions from opposite sides of the fence later this week.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Shell,  An Bord Pleanála, Mayo County Council and locals remain at odds over the status of this section of the pipeline.
The 10-metre section of pipe, which has already been laid by the developer, runs from the high water mark to the weld of the Land Valve Installation (LVI).
It is situated at the landfall site at Glengad, where there were major clashes between protestors, gardaí and Shell security last year.
Opening the applicant’s presentation, Senior Counsel for Shell, Esmonde Keane reiterated the developer’s view that this section of the pipeline was under the consent granted in 2002 by then Minister for the Marine, Frank Fahey, under the Gas Act, and was exempted development.
However, in An Bord Pleanála’s letter to Shell last November, in which almost half the proposed pipeline was deemed ‘unacceptable’ on safety grounds,  it ruled that this section of the pipeline should have been submitted for planning permission.  On the other hand, Mayo County Council has stated it is exempt from planning, in conflict with An Bord Pleanála’s ruling.
The resumed hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and will deliberate on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the modified  pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The hearing, which is expected to last about ten days, will also examine  Compulsory Acquisition Orders (CAOs) for access to lands along this newly-modified route, the third proposed by the developer. 

Shell experts
IN the opening submissions Shell expert witnesses outlined the technical bases for the newly proposed partial route under Sruwaddacon Bay and the rationale of the proposed mechanical installation at the LVI.
Mr Ciarán Butler, of RPS Engineers, the route consultants, said a major objective in the revised EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) was ‘to identify a construction method for Sruwaddacon Bay which would not have a significant impact on this designated conservation site whilst at the same time balancing community and project considerations’.
“The route is at least 234m from existing dwellings. There is a significantly greater separation distance between existing dwellings and the route now proposed than was in the case with the previously approved route (70m) and the pipeline route proposed in 2009 (140m),” Mr Butler said.
His colleague at RPS, Kieran Kennedy, made a submission on community issues and planning policy.
Mr Kennedy, a  Chartered Town Planner, said the development ‘will assist in securing balanced regional spatial development, by ensuring an enhanced and reliable energy source to the West – and indeed to the State as a whole’.
He said that since January 2007 RPS had undertaken ‘a process of community engagement, consultation, and information gathering and dissemination; about the pipeline development.
Mr Kennedy outlined details of the community investment programme, and other grant schemes implemented by Shell, in line with Independent Mediator, Peter Cassells’ report to the government in 2006.

Ministerial consents challenged
LATER last week Inspector Martin Nolan was told by environmentalists, Peter Sweetman and Monica Muller that Shell had made a commitment in 2007 to no longer rely on consents, issued five years earlier (2002), for an onshore pipeline, by former Minister for the Marine, Frank Fahey.
This claim was categorically challenged by counsel for Shell. Shell has consistently argued that the section of the pipeline on and above the shore at the landfall site of Glengad has consents.
However, to facilitate opposing opinions about this matter – and in particular the legality of a 10-metre section of the pipeline at Glengad, which has already been laid –  Inspector Nolan allocated time last Thursday for objectors to address this issue.
During this debate, Monica Muller said she and Peter Sweetman withdrew their counterclaim in 2007 in the High Court case of Shell vs McGrath and Others because ‘Shell had given an undertaking it would no longer use the consent from 2002 for the onshore route’.
“They stated they wouldn’t be able to withdraw the entire consent because they needed it for the offshore section of the pipeline,” Monica Muller said.
However, Esmonde Keane, Senior Counsel, argued that the only commitment the company made at that time was with regard to the vacating of compulsory acquisition orders, and there were no concessions granted about the consents.
“The special undertaking by Shell in April 2007 was with regard to compulsory acquisition orders. This was a specific undertaking regarding the lands of the five men who were jailed [the Rossport Five],” Esmonde Keane said.
Moreover, Mr Sweetman argued there were grounds for a Judicial Review of this application by the developer.
In a letter from Bord Pleanála last November, in which it advised Shell to go back to the drawing board about almost half the proposed route, it was noted that Shell had ‘omitted’ this (10-metre) section of the pipeline from its first application for the modified route. 
Inspector Martin Nolan asked Esmonde Keane what the company’s position was with regard to its inclusion of that part of the route in this latest application.
“Its inclusion was done entirely without prejudice by the applicant with the view that it does not need planning permission and this was upheld by Mr Justice Peter Charleton in the High Court last month,” Esmonde Keane said.
Commenting afterwards, Monica Muller said it was her understanding that Esmonde Keane’s use of the Justice Charleton judgement as a justification of the validity of the 2002 consent was erroneous.
“As a matter of clarity, it is my understanding that  [fisherman] Jonathan O’Donnell’s case was an application concerning the laying of a waste pipe and a valve facility but not the gas pipeline,” Monica Muller said.

County Council exemptions

EARLIER, Mr Keane also argued that in a letter from Mayo County Council in September 2009, in response to an An Taisce query, the council stated the developments and works in relation to the lands above the median high water mark at Glengad were  ‘exempted’. 
However, John Monaghan of Pobal Chomáin said afterwards that when the  disputed works were carried out by Shell last Summer there was ‘no express exemption in place and it was three months later before Mayo County Council rubberstamped the works after a Section Five query by An Taisce’.
The hearing resumes tomorrow, Wednesday, September 1.