November 1, 2007
Northern Ireland

Pollution at Lough Lee: Wind farm under investigation as wild trout stocks disappear

Silt run-off during the construction of a wind farm is believed to be the source responsible for the wiping out of valuable vegetation and a colossal decrease in wild Brown Trout fish stocks in one of Tyrone’s hidden beauty spots.

During recent weeks and months, nets dropped in Lough Lee – situated close to Bin Mountain above Killen and Drumquin – under the instruction of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, turned up only a minuscule sample of small puny fish.

One source described the fish caught as “feeble and malnourished” and indicated that the “damage to the rare genetic strain was irreparable.” Lough Lee has long been considered by angling tourists as one of the most unique freshwater fishing sites in Ireland or Britain.

The UH has learned that earlier this year, while the Bin Mountain wind farm was under construction, such was the extent of the silt and clay run-off that the entire loughwas severely polluted resulting in complete discolouration.

The Herald has further learned that the Environmental Heritage Service (EHS) is preparing files for submission to the Public Prosecution Service after “identifying a source which is believed to be responsible for the pollution impact cited at Lough Lee.”

A statement released by the EHS said, “In respect of that source, EHS Water Management Unit took Statutory samples on July 4, 2007, with a view to prosecution under the Water (NI) Order 1999. EHS Land and Resource Management (LRM) has also gathered evidence with a view to prosecution under Waste legislation. Files are being prepared for submission to PPS. At this time EHS cannot comment further nor name the parties involved.”

In closing the statement said that remedial work in co-operation with EHS has been ongoing.

Locals claim that problems arose during the construction of the 9MW wind farm by leading company Airtricity, who was given planning permission to position turbines on the slope of Bin Mountain facing and in close proximity to the Lough. It appears that silt-traps put in place by the contractors were completely inadequate to prevent the run-off reaching the water edge.

A spokesperson for Airtricity said that after they were alerted earlier this year to an issue regarding discolouration of water in Lough Lee at the Bin Mountain wind farm site they engaged independent environmental consultants to advise on any remedial action required.

“A plan was put in place and Airtricity has worked with its main contractor Graham Construction along with the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) Northern Ireland to implement a series of measures to address the issues,” said the spokesperson.

“Remedial works, carried out by Grahams began on site in April this year and are now at an advanced stage. This process has involved a close working relationship with EHS and Planning Service and it is anticipated these works will conclude in November.”

While Airtricity claim they have been pulling out all the stops to minimise any further damage, the detrimental impact to the local environment is plain to be seen around the periphery of the Lough, which overflows into Lough Braden – the source of the main domestic water supply.

Large deposits of silt and dead vegetation surrounds the Lough on all sides up to 20 metres in places and it is believed that EHS during their investigation have also taken samples from the Lough bed to ascertain the exact extent of the damage to plant life and fish stocks.

While a spokesman for the Loughs Agency admitted they were aware of an investigation they refused to make any comment on the matter.

Ulster Herald

1 November 2007

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