County Council convicted for sewage leak into river

Mayo County Council were convicted and fined at Castlebar District Court this week after summonses were issued by another government body against them. Under the Fisheries Act, the North Western Regional Fisheries Board brought proceedings against the council after deleterious waste matter was permitted to fall into the Castlebar River in January of this year. Mayo County Council pleaded guilty to the summons for the offence on January 24 of this year.

Mr David Harrington, an Environmental Officer from the Fisheries Board, outlined how on the date of the summons, he attended the scene of a sewage leak at Rowan Drive, Castlebar at 3.30pm. On site he met a Mayo County Council delegation.

In evidence, Mr Harrington said that he noticed “a strong smell of sewage, and effluent was seen flowing onto the green area” which is located beside the Rowan Drive housing estate. The discharge, according to Mr Harrington, seemed to be coming from a mound of stones which were located near the river—which runs parallel to the estate—and on closer inspection the sewage was seen to be emanating from an overflowing manhole which was located underneath the stones, and there was also a channel running from the stones to the river.

Three water samples were taken from the area by the Fisheries Board—upstream, downstream and of the discharge. The results of the discharge indicated high levels of nutrients present such as ammonia.

According to Mr Harrington the river experienced a high flood that week and sewage began to overflow in the housing estate on January 19. However, the Fisheries Board were not informed of the incident until the Sunday, when a member of the public contacted them. Mr Harrington said that the seeping sewage continued to flow until Sunday January 27 and was confirmed by him to have stopped on Monday January 28.

Mr Harrington said that Mayo County Council made contact with the Fisheries Board on Monday January 21 when the Town Engineer Sean Higgins said that they were attempting to acquire pumps but it was not until January 24 that they attended the site with Mr Harrington.

Solicitor representing Mayo County Council, Ann McEllin, asked Mr Harrington if there had been any fish kill on the date of the summons, to which she was told that “this could not be confirmed”, but Mr Harrington said that a subsequent fish stock survey conducted in June showed that stock levels had dropped.

CEO of the North Western Regional Fisheries Board, Vincent Roche, said that there was “great reluctance” from the board to bring this prosecution, but he was “shocked at what [he] saw” and described it as the worst overflow of sewage into the river that “I have ever seen”. Mr Roche added that the subsequent report which highlighted that the stock of salmon and trout had “collapsed” was a matter of “serious concern”.

Mr Roche outlined that in previous years the Fisheries Board had also raised concerns about sewage leaking into the river and causing fish kills, as a report in 1990s highlighted that the town’s sewerage plant was overloaded, which led to the Fisheries Board objecting to a number of major planning applications in the town, which was met with some local criticism.

In relation to the current offence, Mr Roche visited the site on Friday January 25, and on the following Tuesday met with Director of Services and County Engineer Joe Beirne, Senior Engineer of Water Services Brian O’Reilly, Town Engineer Larry Walsh and two consultants from Tobin Engineering to discuss the situation.

Mr O’Reilly told the court that the council became informed of the situation after a phone call from a public representative was made to a county council official on Sunday January 20 and that on the following day an engineer contacted the Fisheries Board about the problem.

Mr O’Reilly said that there was heavy rainfall that week—some 48 per cent higher rainfall than average—and that when raw sewage along with the rainwater was arriving at the Castlebar sewerage plant, it could not deal with the capacity and therefore overflowed from the sewerage manhole which was located near the river beside the housing estate.

According to Mr O’Reilly the stone channel was put in place by agents of the council in the vicinity before the overflow in order to cater for surface water which was present on Rowan Drive and that the council took immediate action, putting temporary pumps in place to clear out the flood. This temporary system is still in effect until the new sewerage plant is up and running, in the next couple of years.

Tests from the water were also taken by the county council’s environment section, and Mr O’Reilly said that none of these tests indicated any pollution and also denied what Mr Roche indicated when he said that the council is the only institution who may have discharge pollution into the river, when in fact agricultural waste or slurry from others may also contaminate the water.

When asked by solicitor for the Fisheries, Mr Dermot Hewson why it took a week for the problem to be rectified Mr O’Reilly said that it was not possible to stop it until the flood subsided and that the implementation of a pump “was the best that we could do”.

Judge Mary Devins asked if there had been any other breach in similar circumstances, to which Mr Hewson said that he thought there was a previous conviction during the 1990s, but did not have the case on file and Ms McEllin had no record of this breach.

Judge Devins convicted and fined Mayo County Council €500 and ordered that €747 (the amount for the water tests ) also be paid.


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