Council says clean-up of State’s largest illegal dump to take six years

Owner of Wicklow site disputes estimate, says work can be finished in under three years

Waste at Whitestown dump in Co Wicklow. File photograph: Tim O’Brien/The Irish Times

Waste at Whitestown dump in Co Wicklow. File photograph: Tim O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

It will take over six years to clean up the State’s largest illegal dump, Wicklow County Council has told the High Court.

On Friday, the court ruled the dump, which the council itself partly created at Whitestown, near Baltinglass in west Wicklow, should be restored fully within three years.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys told the council to return to court with a draft timetable as to how it would proceed.

On Tuesday, the council’s barrister, James Connolly SC, laid out a schedule of steps the council would take to comply with the order that Mr Justice Humphreys is expected to make to give effect to his judgment.

Preparing a briefing document for the appointment of an environmental consultant would take three months, said Mr Connolly, indicating this would not be done until October 2017.

A tendering process for the appointment of the consultant would take a further two months.

Prepared timetable

Reading from a timetable prepared by the council, he said that considering the tenders would add a further two months and the waste licence application, including an Environmental Impact Statement and Natura Impact Statement, to be prepared by said consultant, would add a another six months to the process, leading to August 2018.

A further year would elapse (to August 2019) while the Environmental Protection Agency considered the application, according to the council’s schedule.

Assuming a licence was granted, three more months would be taken up in preparing tendering documents for the appointment of a contractor to do the work detailed in the said licence.

The tendering process would bring matters to January 2020, while considering the tenders and making an appointment would take the council a further three months.

Upon appointment of a contractor in April 2020, cleaning waste from the illegal dump, removing one million tons of contaminated soil, back-filling the site with inert waste and then landscaping it when completed would take three years - ie, until April 2023.

It was, said Mr Connolly, “a substantial project” and his draft timetable was “very much a tentative document”.

“We need to take stock of where we are,” he told the judge, adding that “there may be a budgeting issue” for the council.

Consultants familiar with the case suggest upwards of €100 million may be needed to pay for the remediation of the site, which the council claimed to have completed in 2014 at a cost of €3.9 million but which Mr Justice Humphreys described as “botched”.

Earlier in the long-running case, between the site’s current owner, Brownfield Restoration (Ireland) Limited, and the council, the latter estimated that removing the illegally dumped waste, estimated variously to be between 288,000 tons and 1.4 million, but not the one million tons of contaminated soil, would cost about €35 million.

It was not clear where the illegal waste would go as the State’s six licensed landfill sites had caps as to the amount of waste they could take. It was not clear either that the construction industry was producing sufficient infill material to replace the illegal waste.

Peter Bland, SC, acting for Brownfield, commented that six years was being suggested to effect what was “an urgent remediation project”. The public procurement card was being played, he suggested, adding that the council’s draft timetable gave rise to “three potential mischiefs”.

He enumerated these as delays, variables and unnecessary legal complications.

Urgency

“There can be no process that can undermine the court’s order,” he said. “This is an exceptional circumstance requiring urgency.”

He suggested it was feasible to start removing the illegal waste and contaminated soil within a month and finish that job within a year. Within a further year, it would be possible to restore the site with landscaping - “so all works would be complete within two years of today’s date”.

A further six months’ monitoring would see an end to the job, suggesting two and a half years.

Mr Justice Humphreys asked the council to discuss the situation with the EPA and return to court on Thursday with an indication as to the agency’s attitude toward the necessity or otherwise of a waste licence.