Coalition approves €139m wastewater plant for Arklow

Dumping of town’s sewage in Avoca river to stop in 2025 when new facility is operational

Irish Water will build the treatment plant early next year near the original site proposed in 1988, on the north docks at the old Wallboard site at Ferrycarrig. File photograph: Getty

Irish Water will build the treatment plant early next year near the original site proposed in 1988, on the north docks at the old Wallboard site at Ferrycarrig. File photograph: Getty

 

After a campaign lasting some 33 years and “many false dawns” the Government has approved a €139 million wastewater treatment plant for Arklow in Co Wicklow.

Waste water from the town is piped untreated into the Avoca river which is further polluted from residual effects as a consequence of mining. The river has been cited for poor quality in annual Environmental Protection Agency water quality reports and in 2009 was named in the EU Court of Justice finding against the Republic for failure to meet the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

Speaking after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting which approved the plant, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien noted the court of justice finding against the State and said building a treatment plant was “a hugely important step to rectifying the unacceptable situation whereby untreated waste water is released directly to the Avoca river. Arklow has no waste water treatment infrastructure,” said Mr O’Brien.

The Minister added that the new plant would “facilitate economic development and . . . safeguard the environment.”

Locals also expressed satisfaction at the announcement with local Cllr Pat Fitzgerald saying the plant will unblock housing development in the town. “People have been waiting decades and there have been many false dawns,” he said.

Retired county cllr Nancy Quinn recalled on Tuesday that primary treatment for the towns sewage had been proposed when she was on the council in the 1980s.

This was followed by one of the longest planning battles in the State’s history during which locals were bitterly divided about where the plant should be placed. It was initially to have been located on the town’s north docks, though in 1993 a decision was made that it should be built on the coast at Seabank.

A campaign followed that proved divisive – pitting those who favoured the original location against those who wanted Seabank because it was further out of town.

Some locals including the environmental group Coastwatch formed the Arklow Action Group to appeal Wicklow County Council’s decision to shift to Seabank. The issue went all the way to the Supreme Court which found in favour of the council and in 2010 the council said it would press ahead with the scheme, at Seabank, then valued at €35 million.

Washed away

But that locations was vulnerable to coastal erosion and in subsequent years was largely washed away.

“Seabank is gone now. It was washed away. We told them the coast was eroding. Nobody was against the sewage treatment plant; it was in the wrong place. If they had built it, it would be gone by now,” Ms Quinn told the Irish Times in 2020.

Irish Water will now build the treatment plant early next year near the original site proposed in 1988, on the north docks at the old Wallboard site at Ferrycarrig.

Construction on the project, which has an estimated overall cost of €139.3 million, is due to begin in the first quarter of 2022 and be completed by September 2025.

The plant will have capacity for a population of 36,000 people when it is completed in 2025.