Local residents association cautiously welcome statement from Irish Water

RONAN FAGAN

Ballykeeran Residents Association has cautiously welcomed the decision taken by Irish Water to withdraw its current planning application to install raw water intake works and a wastewater treatment plant within the environs of the Portaneena amenity area.

The decision, made in a public statement on Friday last, noted that “additional environmental and technical surveys” had been performed following initial planning application submission resulting in a “number of design changes to the scheme, primarily the realignment of the pipeline route”.

The national utility agency plans to resubmit a revised planning application incorporating the necessary amendments in the near future with the statement noting that “the revised application for the scheme will still have the capacity to treat and supply the current and future water supply demands of Athlone”.

Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Michael Hickey, Chairman, Ballykeeran Residents Association, called upon Irish Water to further engage with the relevant stakeholders prior to submitting a revised planning application.

“It is now important that Irish Water consult meaningfully with stakeholders to ensure that clean water is provided to the people, industry and farmers of Westmeath, Roscommon and Longford from the main flow of the River Shannon in an environmentally sustainable way,” Mr. Hickey emphasised.

Athlone based Senator, Gabrielle McFadden, echoed similar sentiments as news emanated from Irish Water of their plans to withdraw their initial planning application.

“I have opposed Irish Water’s plans for Portaneena and in the Seanad as recently as last week, called on the Minister to direct them to engage with local stakeholders.

“However, following further calls and emails with Irish Water, it is clear to me that their plans are not shelved, they intend to resubmit with an amended proposal. The changes seem to be of a technical nature rather than any substantive change to their proposals.”

“I am again calling on them to use this period to engage in comprehensive local consultation with all relevant stakeholders before they submit their new proposal, not after,” Senator McFadden remarked.

Senator McFadden stated that if the State Agency was genuine with regard to public engagement on this issue, they would do so prior, and not after, their revise planning application is submitted.

“Irish Water have already made one planning application, without engaging any meaningful consultation, which was subsequently turned down as incomplete. They know that there is local concern about their plans and if they are genuine about engagement with the public, they will consult before rather than after they submit their next application.

“I understand the reasons behind the need for a new water source and I am not necessarily against the proposal to take water from Lough Ree. I am concerned that the planned abstraction point in Portaneena is the wrong one and will have serious long term effects on the environment and the local amenity. I believe that Irish Water should change their plans and instead take water from the main lake.

“Irish Water must now take stock before trying to railroad another plan through which is likely to be contested and flawed, costing us all in terms of time, money and biodiversity,” the Senator concluded.

Addressing the public statement, Town Mayor, Frankie Keena, noted that while important to provide sufficient clean drinking water to households and businesses and to have enough in reserve for future development throughout the district, it was also important to make sure that such an industrial treatment plant was located on an appropriate site away, not one which was in close proximity to local residents.

“The objectives and policies in the local authority’s development plan states that public access to our lake shores must be increased. We need to consolidate and improve the existing recreational and sustainable tourism service role of the inner lakes. This is completely contrary to what Irish Water were proposing by building on the only remaining public access to the lake shore in this area,” Cllr. Keena commented.

The Town Mayor outlined his frustration and annoyance with the continued reluctance of Irish Water to meet with the elected representatives in public to discuss this major public infrastructural project.

“I would encourage Irish Water to completely revise their plans and look at alternative sites to provide this important major public infrastructure. There is now an opportunity for this to happen and every effort must be made to get this development right for future generations,” the Town Mayor acknowledged.

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