A High Court judge today imposed a 3 mph speed limit on vehicles operating on a mountain wind farm project in a bid to stop sheep being scared.
Mr Justice Deeny also ruled that a renewable energy firm should only drill bore holes at Ballymongan Hill in Co Tyrone when flocks have been taken off for winter.
With potential profits from the project predicted in the region of £15 million, he said those behind the scheme should provide alternative pasturage and bear the costs of moving the animals.
SSE Renewables Developments UK Ltd is seeking to erect up to nine wind turbines on the 508 acre mountain close to the Donegal border. Planning permission has been granted.
The company has agreed to lease land from the estate of Fitzhenry Augustus Smith, who owned Ballymongan Hill up to his death in 1930.
Legal proceedings centre on the competing rights of sheep farmers to graze their flocks.
Defendants in the case include the descendants of tenants going back as far as 1925.
One has a flock of 600 sheep while another keeps 40 animals on the mountain.
With the main action yet to reach trial, SSE sought orders restraining the defendant farmers from either stopping its workers accessing Ballymongan Hill or interfering with the wind turbine construction.
According to Mr Justice Deeny the work will indisputably interfere with the defendants rights.
Up to 25% of the area will be impacted on a long-term basis, the court heard.
Dealing with the issue of potential damages in the case, the judge cited predictions by the plaintiffs that £15m in profit would be lost if it cannot get on the site now to complete the wind farm by May 2017.
A government subsidy scheme is set to be replaced on that date.
Stressing that its large-scale project will bring benefits to the neighbourhood, the plaintiffs are promising to create jobs and make an annual local contribution of £161,000.
They have reached agreement to pay modest income streams to 18 other families with rights on the mountain if and when the wind farm is in operation.
But Mr Justice Deeny also acknowledged the loss to farmers if any sheep fall down bore holes or flee after being frightened by machinery.
Granting the injunction being sought, he said it will cover any pedestrian access to the mountain by company workers.
However, he added: “If they want to take on to the mountain, as they do, the Argo all-terrain vehicle for carrying out seismic tests it is not to be driven at a speed in excess of 3 mph, i.e. a walking pace that should be less likely to scatter or scare sheep.”
Expressing concern at the “urgent desire” to sink bore holes, he said it should only occur when the sheep are off the mountain – normally in the middle of winter.
With farmers having been prepared to leave 250 animals on the hills due to the lack of other land, the judge suggested a solution of the plaintiffs providing alternative accommodation.
“If the profits of this development really are of the extent claimed by the plaintiffs this would not be unduly onerous,” he said.
“They will also have to be responsible for the costs of moving the animals to the pasturage or housing while they are carrying out the boring work.
“They will be obliged to leave any holes in a safe condition at the completion of the work.”
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