Methane risks persist at docklands site, warns former EPA inspector

 

SIGNIFICANT RISKS from methane gas remain on a €450 million site in Dublin’s docklands despite an attempt by the owners to get Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clearance that the lands are safe for development, a former EPA inspector has warned.

The Irish Glass Bottle property in Ringsend is owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) together with developer Bernard McNamara and financier Derek Quinlan, using a company called Becbay partly funded by a €288 million loan from Anglo-Irish Bank. Becbay claims the lands have been fully cleaned of the pollutants left by decades of industrial use and should no longer be considered an industrial site. They say it should therefore be free for development.

In March, Becbay applied to the EPA to drop the requirement for an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Licence, which was needed during the period of Irish Glass Bottle’s operations on the Ringsend lands since 1994.

In a submission to the EPA, one of its former inspectors, Malcolm Doak, however, warned that 30 per cent methane gas levels exist on the lands and that “a significant gas risk still remains on-site”.

Urging the EPA not to agree to the surrender of the licence, Mr Doak said a decision to do otherwise would “set a new precedent for contaminated land remediation in Ireland”.

Arup Consulting Engineers produced a report for Becbay in March, which declared that “all vestiges” of the Irish Glass Bottle operations have been removed from the site, and that the lands are in “a satisfactory state”.

In a letter to the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, Arup director Niamh O’Sullivan said Arup’s report “provides an independent closure audit for the facility”. Ms O’Sullivan is also a director of the DDDA.

Space created under car-parking spaces and other services would “create a wide and ventilated physical barrier” between polluted lands “and the future habitable spaces of the new development.

This option allowed for leaving deeper deposits of the legacy landfill in place, hence reducing the quantity of waste that required export and disposal,” said the report.

Meanwhile, difficulties in deciding on valuations of properties and assets owned by the DDDA have delayed the submission of the body’s accounts to Minister for the Environment John Gormley.

The accounts, once published, are likely to put the State body into deficit for the first time, reflecting heavy losses sustained on the €450 million Irish Glass Bottle deal – one of the biggest deals of the property boom.

The authority’s then chief executive, Paul Maloney (who resigned on Tuesday night), promised the Oireachtas Committee on Environment last February to publish the accounts by the end of June “at the latest”. “They are definitely delayed. They won’t be published until the autumn,” an authority spokesman told The Irish Times.

“The docklands authority’s accounts for the year 2008, which will include valuations for the authority’s property and development assets are currently being prepared and will be submitted to the Minister for Environment, Heritage Local Government in autumn 2009. The annual report on activities for 2008 has already been submitted,” the authority said in a formal statement.

Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan, in a letter to authority chairman UCD professor Niamh Brennan, demanded full details of the retirement agreement reached with Mr Maloney, whose term of office ran until the middle of next year.

“I noted your statement regarding the early retirement of your chief executive Paul Maloney on July 29th ,2009. I am seeking to establish the terms of his retirement and his financial settlement. I am also interested in your reference to the challenges facing the DDDA that lie ahead,” wrote Mr Hogan.

“During the course of the committee meeting last February, it was clear that there were concerns regarding good corporate governance. Could you indicate if you have addressed the concerns raised and if you will seek to ensure that the board of the DDDA implements new procedures in respect of its decision-making?” he asked.