A strong sense of community with a unified purpose was evident in Ballykeeran on Saturday afternoon, as large numbers expressed their feelings in peaceful protest against plans by Irish Water to install raw water intake works and a wastewater treatment plant within the environs of the scenic Portaneena amenity area.
Ballykeeran residents association have vehemently rejected proposed development plans by the national water utility, noting that such works would cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem of the inner lakes and to the natural habitat within, in the process turning a unique scenic area, boasting immense tourist potential into an industrial zone.
Lending his support at the protest, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, acknowledged the work of the residents association who have made the public aware of the scale of the planned development.
Athlone and the wider area needs clean drinking water to cater for existing demand plus any new infrastructural development projects. Therefore every effort needs to be made to boost our water supply but anyone who frequents the Portanena amenity area knows that it is the wrong location for such a major industrial treatment water facility,” Cllr. Keena remarked.
Noting the potential environmental damage which such a development will cause, the Town Mayor stated that the planning application lodged by Irish Water would soon receive an executive decision.
“From an environmental viewpoint, this proposal to pipe the waste water after treatment back into the inner lake has the potential to damage the ecosystem and the natural habitat of the inner lake as this water is static allowing the sludge to stay in the immediate area for a long time. The site for the pumping station is in a wildlife area and is the only public access to the lake after Coosan Point and Portlick, while the height and scale of the treatment plant will be fairly obtrusive in this residential amenity area.
“It is my view that we need to get the location and the design of this facility right as it is going to be there for future generations,” Cllr. Keena emphasised.
Offering her support to the residents association, local Senator, Gabrielle McFadden, urged Irish Water to reconsider their proposed plans to extract large volumes at the scenic site.
“We are all aware that we need water to live, but we need to ensure that this does not come at a long-term environmental cost. I believe that the unique nature of this area makes it unsuitable as an abstraction point. This error is compounded by placing a large industrial facility in an idyllic rural location and must be reconsidered.
“Extracting over 40 million gallons per day from the inner lake area would cause entirely new flow patterns through a narrow gap, with very unpredictable results for wildlife. The inner lakes are currently sedentary and the local flora and fauna would be changed dramatically. It would be immensely preferable to take water from the main lake where there would be little or no impact on the environment,” the Senator remarked.
Noting that Irish Water have already made one planning application in this regard which was ‘incomplete’, the Senator called on the national utility to consult with local stakeholders before proceeding further.
“Irish Water must now take stock before railroading through a plan that is likely to be contested, costing us all in terms of time, money and biodiversity,” Senator McFadden concluded.