The importance of biodiversity, business, and bats dominated the opening of the second week of the An Bord Pleanala oral hearing into the proposed Galway City Ring Road (GCRR ), held at the g Hotel.
The hearing is scheduled to run until mid-April, and matters were expedited considerably on Monday when many of the listed speakers failed to turn up, leading to a hasty rescheduling of those who addressed the event.
At the opening of this week’s session on Monday, inspector Clare Kellett said that as the module was entitled Ecology and Hydrogeology (as opposed to hydrology ), she would be ensuring that all the speakers stick to concerns raised under those headings.
Deirdre Goggin opened the hearing saying that she was “one of the unfortunates who will lose their homes,” in the event of the road getting the planning and funding green light.
Ms Goggin is one those who will also address the hearing in the next module and only had a brief contribution to make on ecology and hydrogeology, when she raised the matter of cut and cover runnelling through the karst landscape.
However, ARUP’s Eileen McCarthy said that the tunnelling will be undertaken by a boring machine into the face of the rock and not through removing the landscape surface.
Peadar O Maolain on behalf of Kevin Kelly, Geraldine Kelly and Shane Kelly said that the road proposal involved the removal of a whole roadway at Cappagh beside the Kelly family home. He raised concerns about flooding there.
Resident Kevin Gill said that in his opinion, the ecological needs were prioritised over those of human beings in the process.
“The responses I have been getting to my submission are pithy and inaccurate,” he said adding that the 55 demolitions needed as part of this project were totally avoidable.
Sceptical of mitigation
He also suggested that he was sceptical of the plans for mitigation to repair the impact post construction.
He said that he was not encouraged by prior mitigation schemes such as that at Seamus Quirke Road after the realignment of the roads there.
“How long will it taken to recreate the ecology and habitat and is the high cost impact worth it,” he said.
“Human beings are part of the ecological process as well,” he added.
Peter Connolly from Furrymelia West in Barna spoke at length about the impact of the GCCR on connectivity and accessibility in Barna.
He said that the evolution of the village over the last decade or so has been based on the assumptions created by the route chosen for the original road in 2006.
“The cost of demolishing all those family homes would be better spent on solving the ecology and hydrogeology issues.
“Dissecting Barna is creating confusing traffic routes to the village. The village was developed on the assumption that the old route will divide the village.
“The route has zigzagged the ecological areas and the consequent impact is enormous in the area,” he said.
He concluded by asking the inspectors if there was any possibility the route might yet be moved.
Commonsense approach needed
“Solutions were found to the pipeline in Mayo and the Moycullen wind farm,” he said, adding that a commonsense approach was needed for the planning process.”
In response he was told that if the route were to be moved any further north, it would impact on the wetlands area and have a greater ecological impact.
Well-known chartered engineer Brendan Mulligan spoke of his long time interest in the area of sustainability and of his adherence to the principles espoused by the One Planet Living group.
“I have taken a particular interest in sustainability since 2006. Since 2011, I have, together with colleagues from Engineers Ireland West Region, advocated for the adoption of a holistic sustainability framework developed by Bioregional called “One Planet Living” which is based on 10 principles.
“We have advocated for the adoption of the One Planet Living Framework with planners from both Galway city and county councils, as well as other planning authorities in the West Region, the NWRA, developers, etc.
He said that one of the ‘One Planet Living’ principles was ‘Land use and wildlife’ which is concerned with protecting and restoring biodiversity and natural habitats through appropriate land use and integration into the built environment.
“The road development project will cut a swathe approximately 17.5 km long, involving the acquisition of approximately 219 hectares [541 acres] of agricultural land.
“It will run through habitats for nature resulting in destruction, displacement, disturbance, severance and fragmentation for the lifetime of the road development.
Concerned about future mitigation
Mr Mulligan said that while he acknowledged the expertise and genuine commitment of the ecologists on the project team to avoid, minimise, and mitigate the negative effects of the N6 GCRR on nature, he was concerned that maintenance of the mitigation measures might not be effectively and continuously executed over the lifetime of the road development.
“Will there be an adequate, secure budget for the resources necessary for the maintenance of the mitigation measures available annually? What happens if Ireland suffers another economic crisis and there are widespread funding cutbacks?
He added that failure to achieve the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement will have profoundly negative implications for biodiversity. It was utterly unsustainable to undertake any project during the next decade which increased Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“The significant land take for the proposed road development is taking away a significant area of land, 219 hectares, from nature and will impact negatively on habitats and species. We need to make space for wildlife and nature.
“The increases in carbon emissions associated with the proposed road development will contribute to climate change which in turn will impact negatively on biodiversity.
“Can we be sure that the proposed mitigation measures will be implemented continuously and as intended over the lifetime of the proposed road development?
“Ireland’s ecological footprint exceeded biocapacity by 52 per cent in 2016. We have an obligation to reduce our ecological footprint – this proposed road development will instead contribute to increasing it.
“I am reminded of the title of ecologist Pádraic Fogarty’s book, Whittled Away. This proposed road project, by greenhouse gas emissions, land take, severance, disturbance, noise, pollution, etc., will add to the stresses already being suffered by nature and will add to the whittling away of biodiversity.
“A scheme to expand Bristol airport was rejected by councillors on North Somerset Council earlier this month following protests that it would exacerbate the climate emergency, damage the health of local people, and harm flora and fauna. I request that you, Inspector and the Board follow that example,” concluded Mr Mulligan.
Patrick McDonagh spoke for more than 30 minutes about his concerns. In another well-researched submission, he included slides and videos to convey his concerns about the impact of this road in the Coolough and Menlo areas.
He outlined his misgivings about the impact of flooding and potential impacts of pollution on Lough Corrib.
In response, Hazel King of ARUP said that there was no danger of pollution and that wetlands and infiltration basins will prevent this.
Galway is choked without this road
Michael O’Connor said that he was present on behalf of The Village Salthill.
He said that although he could not claim to be qualified in ecology and hydrogeology, he had been an observer of the length of time it takes major infrastructure projects to come to fruition in Galway.
“I think of the two decades it took to get Mutton Island constructed, after years and years of fears about its impact on the ecology, and I don’t think it has impacted on the ecology of Galway Bay in any way.
“Of course, while they were doing the job it had an impact, but since it has opened, I would challenge anyone on my belief that there has not been any negative impact on the ecology of the bay.
“I am aware of the huge scale of the concern about the protection of ecology and wildlife and habitant on this project. This road is vital for the businesses of Salthill. The city is choked up. This road is so necessary,” he said.
Tom Corr, who was representing Dermot and Sarah Harney from Castlegar asked the applicants (Galway County Council ) and the ecological experts about the impact of creating new bat roosts in the area.
His clients live beside an old garage that is to be converted into use as a bat house to replace the natural bat roosts in the area. He asked if the proximity of bats represent any sort of health or rodent hazard.
He was assured by geologist Aebhin Cawley that bats are not a rodent and that they co-exist with humans without any negative impacts. In response to questions as to what other creatures would regard them as prey, she said that cats and small hawks would attack them, but that the bathouse will be accessible only to creatures of bat size so that they are safe from predators once they are inside.
With regard to any noise, Ms Cawley told the hearing that the sound that bats make is audible only by women and children because of the frequency, and she added that while on field trips, she can hear bats while her male colleagues cannot.