Wicklow council ordered to remove up to 1.4m tonnes from dump

High Court orders removal of waste and contaminated soil within three years

The site of the illegal dump at Whitestown, Co Wicklow, in 2001. File photograph Joe St Leger

The site of the illegal dump at Whitestown, Co Wicklow, in 2001. File photograph Joe St Leger

 

Wicklow County Council has been ordered to remove everything from the site of the largest illegal dump discovered in the State to date.

The High Court also ruled adjacent soil, which the council says has been contaminated by the illegal dumping, must also be removed.

The council has estimated previously that the cost of removing all illegal waste from the site in Whitestown, near Baltinglass, would be about €35 million.

In a lengthy and continuing case involving the council and Brownfield Restoration (Ireland) Limited, owner of the site but not operator of the illegal dump, the council – and through it the taxpayer – has been left to foot the clean-up bill.

Estimates of the amount of waste dumped illegally at the site vary from 288,600 tonnes to 1.4 million tonnes. The council has estimated that a further million tonnes of soil at the site have been contaminated as a result.

All must now be removed, Mr Justice Richard Humphries directed on Friday in a 132-page judgment, and disposed of legally in a manner and location as yet unknown.

A partial remediation of the illegal dump, which the council carried out in 2014 at a cost of €3.9 million and which it claimed was done to the highest national and European standards, was described by Mr Justice Humphreys as “botched”.

Asbestos

The council did not put in a membrane to separate the illegal waste from the surrounding soil. The waste, 98 per cent of which remains in situ and includes asbestos, is sitting in water and is on land that drains into a tributary of the Slaney river, which provides drinking water to homes in Carlow and Enniscorthy.

The illegal dump was operated from the 1980s until late 2001. Waste dumped included domestic and hospital waste, industrial waste brought there by private operators, and toxic tarmacadam road spoil and other waste left by the council.

As part of its remediation effort at the dump, the council spread soil over the waste but did little else. On all points relating to the proper remediation of the site, Mr Justice Humphreys found against the council.

“Given the wide scale of council dumping and the long period over which it has progressed, and the council’s dilatoriness in pursuing effectively the other polluters such that it is now not possible to do so, it is not disproportionate to require the council to remediate the site,” he said.

He characterised as “perverse” the council’s position that a clean-up order would be disproportionate on it because of the high cost.

He said such a view “would be familiar to Dean Swift”, a reference to the 18th-century Irish satirist.

“On the contrary, the more waste there is the more important that is it removed,” said the judge, adding that “the cost is a consequence; it is not a reason not to order removal”.

Environmental risk

The judge referred to the “environmental risk caused by [the council’s] botched remediation” and ordered it to return to court on Tuesday with a draft timetable for a full and proper remediation of the whole site.

He directed that the site, close to which there are several homes whose residents for years complained to the council about the dump but to no avail, be fully restored and free of all illegal waste and contaminated soil within three years, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Asked to comment on the case, a spokesman for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said it would take time for the council and other regulatory authorities to read the lengthy judgment before consideration could be given as to its full implications and the next steps to be taken.

The case, which has run for almost 80 days, resumes on Tuesday.