A decision to grant permission for Cleanrath Windfarm Ltd to develop 11, 150m turbines near the Gearagh, Macroom, a protected site in Co Cork, is being appealed by concerned locals and a local environmental group.
Macroom District Environmental Group (MDEG) submitted a detailed observation, which calls into question the developer's assumption, as part of its planning application, that other wind farms in the area are inevitable.“The 'already permitted wind energy development' was, at the time of the developer’s statement, under judicial review in the High Court (Balz & Heubach v An Bord Pleanála). The High Court subsequently found in favour of the applicants.”
The MDEG submission also complains about the timing of the application, which gave objectors just 13 working days to absorb its contents and respond.
“The recent Irish Banking Inquiry Report came in at several hundred pages – this Planning Application contains a few thousand pages, much of it in language unfamiliar to many people in our community. This may all be legal, but it is not fair. It is not participatory democracy.”
MDEG's observation lists the many conservation designations of the Gearagh, the Toon Valley and Lough Allua, which are all within the catchment area of the proposed windfarm development. Being a unique inland alluvial forest, the Gearagh has high protection status, including Priority Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Status under the EU Wild Birds Directive and Irish Natural Heritage Area (NHA) designation. Lough Allua is also an NHA and the Toon Valley is a candidate NHA.
MDEG goes on to list the dangers to the natural systems of the area from windfarm development. Aside from visual and noise impact, these include the likelihood of slippage from unstable wetlands that would suffer vast disturbance with the building of access roads. The presence of protected species including the freshwater pearl mussel, river sponges and the red-listed Killarney fern is noted. Raptors like merlins and hen harriers are residents of the valley, while Lesser Horseshoe bats have noted roosts in the Toon valley and nearby Inchigeelagh. The disturbing phenomenon of barotrauma, whereby bats die from changes in atmospheric pressure caused by turbines, is explained.
MDEG argues that the construction of wind turbines on raised bogs will add to flooding problems already being experienced downriver. Bogs act as natural sponges, trapping rainwater and holding it back. The construction of roads throughout these bogs, says MDEG, will allow rainwater to flow into the river systems much more quickly. It says this could also destabilise the bogs and lead to mudslides. It details two previous instances of peat slides in the last twenty years and notes:
“These incidences indicate the unstable nature of the receiving geology, and the proposed development includes a huge amount of destabilising activities in its engineering – this will combine with the aforementioned frequency of heavy rainfall events to create real danger to human life, property, livestock, forestry, and terrestrial and aquatic natural life. The Toon River is a candidate NHA, and is estimated to be in the firing line for receipt of 2/3 of the runoff and slippage from the proposed development upland. The Lee, Lough Allua and the Gearagh will receive the other 1/3 of runoff and slippage. As the Toon empties into the Gearagh anyway, it can be said that any pollution from peat and debris slide will impact the Gearagh 100%.”
The appeals will be assessed by An Bórd Pleanála and a decision is expected to be made by October.