State wildlife experts have "key outstanding concerns" about the implications of the Galway harbour expansion plan, an oral hearing has heard.
New documentation submitted to An Bord Pleanála by Galway Harbour Company is "not sufficiently well supported" or "analysed" in relation to specific conservation objectives for protected habitats, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) experts said.
A “wildlife pass” for otters and seals that would be affected by construction of a “barrier” between the Corrib estuary and the bay is “conceptual”, marine mammal expert Oliver Ó Cadhla said. He added there was insufficient supporting evidence for its effectiveness.
Dr Ó Cadhla was one of a team of specialists attached to the NPWS and Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) outlining concerns on the third day of the oral hearing.
Assessment by the developer of the impact on the great northern diver (or loon) during construction over an eight- year period – and increased boating activity is also "not scientifically robust", said NPWS inspector David Tierney.
Great northern diver
Inner Galway Bay lists 20 bird species with “conservation interests”, and it is the most important Irish wintering site for the great northern diver, Dr Tierney said. He said the applicant should have undertaken more comprehensive surveys.
DAHG marine ecologist Dr David Lyons and colleague Dr Julie Fossitt were critical of the lack of clarity in certain aspects of the developer's submission on ecology.
Galway Bay is designated as a candidate special area of conservation for selected habitats and species and a special protection area for birds.
The first phase of the proposed €126 million port expansion into south Galway Bay involves reclamation of almost 27 hectares of foreshore and seabed, and loss of almost 37 hectares in total of intertidal, subtidal and wetland habitat.
The developer has argued that much of it is of “low quality”, but has offered to compensate for permanent loss of habitat under sections of the European Union habitats directive.
In response to concerns raised earlier this week by An Taisce, harbour company representative Anthony Cawley said "current best Irish practice" – projecting sea level rise and climate change – had been applied to the plan.
Asked by presiding inspector Paul Caprani if Ireland "consistently underestimated flood risk", Mr Cawley said that we were "generally a number of years" behind Britain.
The hearing continues next Tuesday.