The Ballyroan-based anti-wind farm group People Over Wind (POW) is considering its legal options of either serving a High Court injunction or seeking a judicial review on Coillte at its wind farm development in the Cullenagh Mountain.
The move comes after POW claimed that Coillte began work on trenches in the Cullenagh Mountain to connect its wind farm to the national grid in the past week.
POW claims that such works cannot proceed, if at all, until An Bord Pleanála (ABP) makes a decision on whether or not these works are classed as exempt developments and whether or not they require planning permission.
POW has been engaged in a three-year campaign to prevent Coillte from erecting 18 wind turbines near Cullenagh, which is close to Timahoe and Ballyroan. To date, the group has spent almost €100,000 through various legal channels in its ongoing resistance.
In its latest move, the group’s spokesperson Paula Byrne said: “Planning law clearly states that a full planning application for a grid connection is required where a wind farm was subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and/or an appropriate assessment (AA). The proposed Cullenagh wind farm is subject to both. Coillte has none of these for the latest work but began anyway connecting the wind farm to the grid last Monday, 18 July.”
Ms Byrne said that in April, POW sought information from Laois County Council as to whether it considered the grid connection to be an exempt development. On 19 May, the council referred the matter to ABP for its determination. On 24 June, ABP sought further information from Coillte.
However, before ABP made its decision, Ms Byrne claimed that Coillte began on the connecting works.
Ms Byrne said: “At the moment, ABP has made no decision on this. We expect the decision to be made within the next two months. Coillte went around to the local houses with shiny brochures saying that the connection is an exempt development. It was a bit ambiguous in its wording. They seem to think they know what is exempt and what is not. We don’t know why they started the work, while ABP is still deciding whether or not Coillte needs planning permission? We are now taking legal advice on what course of action to take.”
Replying, a spokesperson from Coillte said that the company “has been carrying out detailed studies to identify the proposed underground grid connection route from the Cullenagh wind farm to the national electricity grid at Portlaoise”.
She said that the assessments on the proposed 38kV grid route corridor have determined that “the routing will not have a significant effect on the environment or on European designated sites and is considered an exempted development … and does not require planning permission to proceed, as currently set out in the regulations”.
She confirmed that Coillte began work on Monday 18 July “on a stage of underground cable works along the portion of the preferred grid route” and completed the works on the following day.
She said that in advance of the works, all householders in the area around Cullenagh Forest were provided with up-to-date information about the wind-farm project.
She said that a dedicated community liaison officer is meeting residents to answer any of their queries and to provide them with all details about the wind-farm project’s latest activity.
She also said that the company will be actively consulting with the local community about the Community Benefits Scheme, including an index-linked community benefit fund of €67,500 a year for 25 years.
She said that as part of our Community Benefit Scheme for Cullenagh wind farm, Coillte is committed to improving local amenity and recreation, providing new and enhanced recreational amenities with greater accessibility to the forest and supporting local projects.
She said that the fund will be put in place later this year and will be available to the local community over the lifetime of the wind farm.
If members of the public have any queries in relation to the wind-farm project or Community Benefit Scheme, they are asked to contact the Cullenagh project team or the Community liaison officer at the Cullenagh Windfarm Project, Unit A4, Parkside, Abbeyleix Road, Portlaoise by phoning 057 864 3606 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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