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State is facing massive fines over Derrybrien

Environmental issues surrounding a controversial South Galway windfarm could end up costing the Irish Government more than €4 million in fines.

The Derrybrien Windfarm, situated on the Slieve Aughty Mountain, has in the past seen devastating landslides that have threatened local homes.

And last week the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) advised that Ireland should face substantial and increasing penalties because of its failure to fulfil a court order related to the facility.

The windfarm was developed by the ESB to generate electricity more than 15 years ago – but it has also been dogged by controversy from the start, reaching a pitch with a massive landslide in 2003.

In 2008, the Irish authorities informed the Commission that the windfarm operator (ESB) had agreed to provide an updated environmental impact assessment.

David Murray, Chairman of the South Galway Flood Relief Committee, said that there was still no proper environmental impact analysis – leaving the Irish Government facing stiff fines as a result.

“On the one hand the Government says it’s committed to action on environmental action and on the other they are incapable of the right action.

“We’re throwing money away on fines because of our carbon consumption and then we’re throwing even more money after that because we can’t develop these sites properly,” he said.

The original Environmental Impact Assessment of the Derrybrien Windfarm indicated that there would be no additional drainage needed on the four square kilometre site, sitting on top of a 350m peak on the Slieve Aughty Mountains.

Mr Murray said that after the 2003 landslide happened the developers put in place a robust drainage scheme, which involved digging six feet wide and eight feet deep drains from each of the 71 turbine bases.

He added that drainage of the site was further impacted by the clear-felling of over 200 hectares of forest, over 25 kilometres of new drains and over 17 kilometres of roads were constructed.

“With no impact assessment, there was no consideration of how these changes would affect the hydrology of the mountain and its influence on the subsequent flooding of South Galway in 2005,” he said.

In November 2009, Hugh O’Donnell and his family from Beagh had to be rescued by helicopter after their home was rapidly engulfed by flood waters.

“We want a proper assessment on any impacts of mountain operations in this area and retrospective mitigation to ensure that potential flooding impacts from the windfarm are mitigated in some way.

“What kind of message are the Government sending about windfarm development if we are steadfastly ignoring best-practice and the concerns of the people?

“Why do we have to look to Europe to solve this and why is there nothing being done? There are many questions to be answered about our Government’s inaction,” Mr Murray added.

Responding to the story this week, the ESB stated: “ESB, through its subsidiary Gort Wind Farm Limited, constructed a wind farm at Derrybrien within the Slieve Aughty Mountains between Loughrea and Gort in County Galway.

“The wind farm has been in production since 2006. We are aware of the court case between the European Commission and the Irish Government, and understand from our discussions with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that a final ruling is expected from the European Court of Justice in the coming months”.