A blanket bog in north Kerry which is being developed into a wind farm has raised the heckles of turbary (turf-cutting) rights holders as well as local residents, who did not realise the scale of what was being planned before work began. Now they are worried about the long-term impact of the development on their ability to dig for turf, as well as the bog itself.
Located on a rise between Ballylongford and Astee, the development site is known as the runaway bog, because in Christmas 1869 about 100 acres of it slipped down the hillside and all the way into Ballylongford. Anecdotal reports, passed down through the generations, talk about how the river was blocked, prime fields were destroyed, cattle and sheep were lost and the peat had to be cut away from the bridge in Ballylongford with sleáns. As a result local people respect this place, going in there to cut turf, but doing nothing to upset the sleeping giant.
Then in 2009, planning permission was granted for a windfarm at Tullahennel South, across a section of the runaway bog. The bog is owned locally, but many people have turbary rights there. Some contacted That's Farming because they were concerned about the way in which the development was being carried out. To protect themselves and to prevent animosity within the community, they asked not to be named. We visited on March 5 and saw scenes of devastation, as the developers used heavy machinery in trying to stabilise this soft and shifting terrain into a permanent state of peace.
Excavation of the site began last June. The planning permission allows for construction of 10 wind turbines, with all ancillary works, including roads, anemometer and substation. Numerous issues have raised concern. Roadways through the site, which we measured at 10m wide, are being built using quarried limestone and tree trunks. Locals think that the wooden stems will quickly rot if they are left exposed to the air, while the limestone is expected to corrode in the acidic bogwater. These are not the main concerns of locals however.
A quarry on the site was developed under a separate planning notice to provide long-term storage for extracted peat. Residents are worried that its depth will lead to contamination of the water table. A well on the quarry site has been capped but there is no way of knowing what impact dumping thousands of tonnes of peat in a quarry will have, as the years go by. The quarry consists of two deep excavations, only one of which was full when we visited.
You can see footage of the site shot here by our journalist Tom Jordan:
The size of the quarry and the need for storing vast quantities of peat has raised questions about the terrain into which the turbines are being placed. The bog is known for its numerous 'blue holes', seeming bottomless pits like quicksand. Particular problems seem to have been encountered at the site of T7, near the wildest part of the bog. The ground here was so soft that excavators kept having to extract more soil and peat to arrive at stable surfaces.
Regarding T7, a local man explained: “On paper [according to the plans] a hole approx 18m by 18m by 4.5m depth of bog was to be excavated which would equate to 1,458m3 of peat. By way of clarity the 18m by 18m would be equal to the footprint of the steel cage on view in that base. We measured the diameter of that excavation and it was 66.5m wide. If you apply a cubic calculation for a cylinder to this base using the peat depth provided of 4.5m you get over 15,000m3 of peat stripped and dumped, generations of peat for fuel gone, tonnes of trapped carbon released into the atmosphere, wildlife habitat destroyed so rapidly that it can never recover.”
This problem has been repeated at other sites and one hole has yet to be excavated, because the roadway leading to it started sinking. Certainly the terrain is still yielding.
Turf-cutters say they were promised by the company that it would dig 18,000m3 of turf for them, but this has not happened. Instead, a huge open-air storage facility for excavated peat covers about three acres of bog. This is ringed with a clay bank and fenced on top with hopelessly inadequate barbed wire. It is supposed to be temporary and there is no permission for it, according to our guides, but there is no denying its existence.
When we visited the site there was also clear evidence that silt traps were not working. Water being pumped out of the quarry was thick with sludge and silt, while traps which were supposed to capture this were flapping helplessly. In addition, banks along the access road had been cut away in places to allow surface water to flow down into the drains. As a result we were able to follow a grey sludge-like stream along the roadside to where it joined another main drain and stream in a three-way intersection. United in a grey cloud, they flowed under the roadway and off through the bog to carry their cargo of silt into nearby waterways. A distant silt trap along this stretch also looked dysfunctional.
These streams of silt were clearly breaking many rules about managing run-off in sensitive ecological areas. To be fair we had had heavy rain in previous days and we were told the company started cleaning up the mess on Monday morning, but over the few days these drains were allowed to flow unchecked, a lot of damage would already have been done to important eel habitat.
Lost Turf Bogs
Because of ongoing construction work last summer, many rights-holders who had cut their turf could not get near it to bring it home. By the time they were allowed in some reeks had been crushed and buried by heavy machinery building the new road.
Access roads have impinged on the bogs of turbary rights holders, up to 5m in places. They do not know if they will be compensated for their lost bogs. In addition, a new 4ft high bank makes access with machinery, at least very difficult, if not impossible. One man's bog has had a silt tank built right across it, with no forewarning.
We managed to talk to the developer Dennis Moriarty, but he claimed to have no intimate knowledge of the site in Ballylongford. He offered us a contact number for his project manager, but he could not be reached.
Dennis denied that the site was posing any particular difficulties, saying “it's no more difficult than other sites.” He also denied allegations that there have been breaches of the planning permission regarding the amount of silt that had to be moved. He said “no to that” and added that his company adheres to “strict planning conditions.”
Another senior employee of the development company said he is not permitted to comment officially, but he gave a personal perspective: “Look it's a huge project, but we do these all the time. It was probably a lot bigger than local people expected, but I work for a wind development company. There are always some people who are happy to see a wind farm being developed and others who aren't. That's the way it is.”
Moriarty's have a fine stop-motion video on their website of a turbine being built in ideal conditions. The site is excavated, levelled off and the foundations go in. Easy. But the runaway bog is proving less straight-forward and despite the denials of company men, it looks like being a hugely costly affair. Looked at objectively, it is hard to see this kind of site being really suitable to wind development. This, along with the possibility of future lawsuits from residents whose houses are within 750m of the turbines, must be an example of wind being developed beyond its break-even point.