Plans for the construction of the €600 million Galway Citry Ring Road will cause ‘eco-cide’ to more than 6,000 species of animasl, birds and insects, various groups opposed to the development told an oral hearing into the project in the city this week.
Although proceedings at the hearing at the g Hotel were unexpectedly expedited by the non-appearance of many of those scheduled to appear, only one speaker spoke in favour of the project, with all of the others expressing opinions that the plan was unnecessary and damaging to the ecology and hydrogeology of the areas through which it passes.
The €18km motorway will also include a new bridge and viaduct over the river Corrib, two short tunnels on the city’s east side, the demolition of 44 houses and the acquisition of 10 more houses which would be seriously impacted by the development.
More than 300 objections from groups and home and business owners have been lodged with An Bord Pleanála in connection with the ring road around Galway city which planners say is essential to ease chronic traffic congestion in the city.
The first person to address the hearing on Tuesday morning was Menlo resident Vincent Carragher who that it was important that people realise the consequences and implications of climate change and that a proposal such as this was not compatible with current lifestyles and climatic expectations.
He said he has serious concerns about the movement of animals and insects across this new roadway.
“A bridge is planned across the river but that only takes into account the needs of one species, - humans. The simple windscreen test will tell you this. Years ago, your windscreen would have been covered with insects and flies in the morning. Now, that is not the case. We are losing species all the time.
“The environmental impact assessment is flimsy beyond flimsy and does does not take into account the population of animals and insects. We don’t allow for insects. There are up to 6,000 species impacted by this proposal. The animals will find that their crossing will be impacted by a major fence across their route which is this new road.
“We need to be kinder. The word humankind is made up of two words — humane and kind. I would like our plans to be both.” he concluded.
In response, ecology expert Aebhin Cawley said that it is accepted that where there is a road project that there is always disruption to the flow of animals.
Dermot Flanagan SC, representing the McHugh Property group who are the owners of Lackagh Quarry, took exception with the choice of land to recreate grassland.
One of the most significant of these was the planned mitigation measure to develop 7.1 hectares of grassland within the quarry – to counteract the loss of limestone pavement.
For the council, Aebhin Cawley said that using alternative land which had been offered was not acted upon because the land had not been acquired in accordance with approriate recreation guidelines.
Speaking on behalf of the Galway Athletics Board, Ruth Molloy and Brian Bruton stressed the impact that the roadway will have in terms of ecology at Dangan.
Ms Molloy said that three years ago, she swam in the Corrib for the first time.
“What was there under the water was so beautiful. The water was sweet and flowing and there was a diversity of weed and wildlife so different to the sea. I have never looked back and swim regularly in the warmer months between Glenlo and Waterside. The section of the river either side of the Quincentenial Bridge is dead, silted and muddy — a sad testament to cement and our idea of progress.
“The section of the river just below where the planned bridge will be is from my direct observations one of the fastest flowing parts of the natural river above the Weir. This river is not deep there is a deeper channel up the middle where our Corrib Princess passes but either side it ranges from 1 to 2 metres where sunlight penetrates and supplies plant life for photosynthesis and supports the delicate ecosystem described in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report
“This is consistent with my observations; the fast flow prevents the stasis of algae resulting in high levels of oxygen in the water and concurrently there are reed and weed beds lillys and smolt nurseries to be observed. More specifically however, along this narrowed stretch of river I have observed juvenile Fresh Water Mussels most likely (Margaritifera Margaritifera ) embedded in the bank as part of their long life cycle. I know that the fresh water mussel is a protected species.
“I am also aware of the precedent set in Oughterard where the building of a pedestrian bridge was halted as it would have adversely affected the biodiversity of the Owenriffe river as it passed through the town. Freshwater mussels provide a natural filtration system many streams that once supported abundant mussels now don’t.
“Subject to environmental conditions each adult mussel filters gallons of water every day. The preservation and restoration of mussels should promote positive feedback to ecosystem health in the form of cleaner water, reduced erosion and increased habitat complexity. The presence of this species indicates a viable system, something that a bridge and road in this area will adversely impact if not totally decimate. This does not meet the objectives of the City Development Plan nor does it meet the objectives of the National Biodiversity Plan.
What is really confusing is the statement in the environmental impact assessment report which states there were no populations, or individual records, of the Freshwater pearl mussel recorded within the scheme study area and that the watercourses present were found to be poor habitat for the species.
“It also stated that the River Corrib and east of the River Corrib were discounted through not having the appropriate geology to support Margaritifera.
“This means that the section of the river most directly affected by the building process has not been checked for Margaritefera. Conversely, the conveniently selected rivers that were checked and reported had no populations,” contimued Ms Molloy.
“We put it to you that this is inadequate. Given that we have numerous observations from swimmers that the freshwater mussels exist here. We believe it is incumbent upon the applicant to prove that they don’t exist and to provide an analysis of the species that we have observed to exist there.
“Writing off the possibility with a geological assumption is not adequate within the remit of this process. The report states that there will be habitat loss, surface water impacts during construction, deposition of dust, the introduction of non-native invasive plant species, hydrogeological impacts and mortality risks to aquatic species.
“This mortality risk might just include Margaritifera. This highlights the deficiencies of the EIAR. The observed reality and what is written on paper can often be very different things.
“Furthermore, one of our members has regularly observed leech in the river. These are not listed at all in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report. We don’t know what species they are, but there are species that are protected under EU law.
“This environment is one of only four options which citizens of Galway have for their outdoor pursuits, the others being Terryland Forest Park, The Prom and Barna Woods. Planners wanted to put a road through Terryland, there are plans to turn Salthill into an even bigger car park and Barna Woods/Cappagh Park received only €4,000 funding in the last budget (enough to put out a bin bag on the end of the bench and hack away the undergrowth ), but that’s a discussion for another day. The raw fact is — countless children and adults in our City will have their only interface with nature in this area.
“There are countless people whose mental and physical health has been influenced positively through their interface with this environment, the beauty of the surrounding, and the animals that inhabit it. Does that count for anything or are you just content to stand by and see their interface with nature destroyed by careless plans,” she asked.
Ms Molloy spoke of the human encroachment on the animal world and mentioned the number of dead badgers and otters which were found on the site of the new M18 road and Moycullen bridge.
“Many of these animals, like ourselves, are creatures of habit they have been following particular paths for decades. Suddenly a road is out in their way. Engineers are meant to put underpasses in for them so they can go about their business, but that doesn’t happen as it should. I counted 15 badgers in the two years it took to develop and widen the road in Moycullen.
Ms Molloy was also critical of the extent to which the plan took little cognisance of the population of kingfishers in the area and the plans to demolish 15 out of 15 buildings that are bat roosts. She added that dust, noise, and light pollution during and after construction could further decimate the population. Not to mention that the pollution from the increased traffic and the loss of habitat will decimate their food source.
“These species are protected. What can mitigate destroying 19 out of 20 roost sites that have likely been there for centuries. This is ecocide of a species. This section of the impact assessment is pure “green gas lighting”. It´s like someone cut and pasted certain key sentences. Keep telling them nothing is being affected whilst basically bulldozing the whole habitat of a broad spectrum of bat species. How this can be allowed is mindboggling.
She added that there will be a 50 per cent reduction in the Peregrine Falcon Population in one fell swoop, given that one of the two roosting pairs of the bird in Galway is located at Lackagh Quarry.
“The EIAR document states that the nesting site in Lackagh Quarry will be exposed to high levels of disturbance during the construction and thus it is likely the nesting pair present will abandon their nest and habitat resulting in long term effect at local and county geographic scale.
She concluded by stating that she is tired of the green-washing that goes on in this city.
“It seems ironic that as important and viable habitat is encroached and destroyed piecemeal by the Council of Couldn’t Care Less, little plastic and metal signs are put up to tell us what we once would have seen in the area had it been left alone. Only three weeks ago, a biodiversity officer reappointed to the City Council. There just never seemed to be enough funding for a biodiversity officer in the past 10 years.
“The environment and biodiversity are seen as a grubby planning necessity, a box to be ticked, a trifle standing in the way of expansion, a cut and paste job of green gas-lighting terminology rather than an actual expression of the health of our city. This paradigm has to shift.
“When are those in charge going to realize that key species are a very real indicator of environmental health and that environmental health is intrinsically related to our health. This proposed development does not meet the objectives of the City Development Plan nor does it meet the objectives of the National Biodiversity Plan. It does not support the health and wellbeing of the local population nor will it solve traffic congestion in Galway,” she concluded.