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ESB at odds with landowners over blame for peat instability

ESB Apprentice Moneypoint

THE ESB has come under fire from land owners in South Galway following the erection of a sign near the entrance of Derrybrien Windfarm warning about the “risk of peat instability from peat harvesting”.
There are about 114 plots of land within the windfarm site boundary that many residents of Derrybrien and Killnadeema have been using through their lifetime for individual use as fuel.
The South Galway Flood Relief Committee has claimed the ESB has turned the tables on local communities, meaning that turf-cutting contractors will be the ones liable for peat destabilisation and not the company, by erecting this sign, which has effectively halted peat operations in the region.
The ESB has stated it didn’t issue any instruction to turbary rights holders or contractors stopping them from accessing or harvesting at Derrybrien.
It also outlined the community liaison for Gort Windfarms Ltd.remains available to discuss the findings on an environmental level with the local community.
In October 2003, the group alleged a subsidiary of the ESB destabilised the peat on the Slieve Aughty mountains during the early stages of construction of the 70-turbine Derrybrien windfarm, which resulted in dislodging around half a million cubic metres of peat down the mountain.
In November 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union slapped Ireland with a €5 million fine and a subsequent €15,000/day fine until a retrospective environmental impact assessment and mitigation measures are put in place.
Last year, the group stated as part of a ‘Remedial Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR)’ Gort Wind Farms outlined it “engaged with the public throughout the development and operation of the project”, which consisted of providing a ‘plain-English’ flyer to people within 10km, putting up the required notices in August and letting people know that the EIAR had been completed.
The group claimed there is no willingness to engage with local communities on this issue.
“Within the face of all the controversy surrounding the ESB’s management of the Derrybrien windfarm, this just shows the level of belligerence that South Galway communities have to deal with,” said David Murray, Chair of the South Galway Flood Relief Committee.
“They caused the issue, they were asked to fix it but for years they refused.
“The Irish public has since been required to bail them out with fines now mounting to €13 million, and growing daily and this is how the ESB continues to behave. It’s atrocious,” added Mr Murray.
“The Derrybrien windfarm continues to have a big impact on the communities here but the ESB with this latest statement, they are exacerbating it”, said Martin Collins, Derrybrien.
“We cannot accept and will not accept the self-serving assertion that there are no significant adverse impacts form the windfarm development. Even the erection of this sign has now had a direct impact on people here who now cannot get their turf cut”
The ESB stated the planning application for this development was made in full compliance with the regulations in force at that time. The wind farm has been in production through its subsidiary Gort Wind Farm Limited since 2006 and continues to play an important role in Ireland’s low-carbon economy.
The ESB noted it agreed to completed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and submitted an application for substitute consent to An Bord Pleanala in August 2020 after the EU ruling.
As part of this substitute consent process, ESB had to complete a peat stability risk assessment report, which was carried out by an external expert company.
This report warned there is the risk of peat instability from harvesting peat with heavy machinery on certain areas.
To ensure public safety, the ESB erected signs at the site to inform of this risk while also engaging with the local community.

by Dan Danaher

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