A MAJOR question mark hangs over Clare County Council’s ownership of its central waste facility in Inagh, following a 70% drop in the amount of waste being land-filled for the first eight months of the year.
Closure, leasing the facility, leasing to sell or maintaining the facility as a recycling centre are options currently being considered by Clare County Council in the wake of falling waste volumes.
Residents were informed about the options under consideration at a meeting of the local liaison committee last week, which has prompted criticism from councillors about not being informed about such a possible major policy change.
It is expected the difficulties facing the landfill will be discussed at the September meeting of the county council next Monday.
The council expected to landfill 34,000 tonnes at Ballyduffbeg, Inagh this year but this is now expected to be about 20,000 tonnes, based on current trends.
Opened in September 2002, the landfill, which is almost half full, is licensed to take a maximum of 56,500 per annum and employs 15 people.
There are five phases of landfill development at the facility. Phases One and Two have been developed and filled. Phase 3 was constructed in 2008 and is currently being filled. The expansion into the next phase, which would involve multi-million capital projects, should commence some time between late 2010 and 2012, depending on the levels of waste to the facility.
Acting director of services Paul Moroney confirmed that no decision had been taken to close the Ballyduffbeg landfill facility and stressed that all options would be assessed and considered over the coming weeks.
In addition to the downturn in the economy, Mr Moroney explained that waste volumes has fallen by 20% and are expected to fall by a further 20 to 30% as biodegradable waste is diverted from landfill and other waste management processes are implemented.
While the council has reduced its gate fees in Inagh, Mr Moroney hoped business would increase before the end of the year due to the use of the facility by a few large operators.
“A number of landfills reduced their prices considerably in late 2008 and early 2009. Waste has been transported over longer distances to the cheaper landfills, bypassing the smaller landfills, which include the Ballyduffbeg facility.
“Prices at landfill have not increased in 2009 and anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that they may reduce further for 2010.
“Due to these factors and the consequent impact on the finances of Clare County Council, it would be remiss of the council not to examine all of its options for the future management and operation of the facility at Ballyduffbeg and all options are open for consideration,” he said.
Resident Perry Long claimed the landfill has proved to be a “white elephant and a waste of taxpayers’ money” considering the amount of public expenditure in maintaining the facility in recent years. Having witnessed the dramatic decline in tonnage, she said an EU directive stated that gate fees had to cover the running of landfills.
Questioning the original site selection process, she argued it would have made better sense if the facility were located in South-East Clare, near Limerick City, and not over 35 miles away from where the majority of the waste in the region is being produced.
“Whether the council is accepting one tonne or a 1,000 tonnes, it still has to carry out various environmental reports and tests. It gives us no pleasure to say ‘we told you so’; it is a pity the council didn’t listen to residents earlier,” she said.
However, Mr Moroney insisted that Ballyduffbeg is not making a loss at present and has generated a profit for the council in the past.
Councillor Patricia McCarthy expressed disappointment that this issue has not be presented to councillors for discussion to date and stressed it is vital to assess the implications for staff and the council in all its options.
While gate fees at landfills have declined, the Shannon councillor expressed concern about the increasing cost of waste collection for residents since the council opted out of the service.
Acknowledging that large waste collectors claim other costs have also increased, she warned the impact of any possible closure of Ballyduffbeg on the cost of wheelie-bins would have to be carefully assessed.
Councillor Brian Meaney said that he isn’t comfortable with the conflict between the council trying to divert waste from landfill and at the same time trying to ensure it attracts enough waste to Ballyduffbeg to maintain its viability.