Biopark controversy rears its head again in Claremorris

Controversy looks set to erupt again in Claremorris over plans to develop a combined heat and power (CHP ) plant and biomedical facility - called a biopark - on the outskirts of the town.

The BioPark is back in the news following Councillor Richard Finn’s proposal to have the site, where planning for the project was previously overturned by An Bord Pleanala, rezoned for ‘opportunity development’ to boost the project’s chances of getting the go ahead.

Now two groups in Claremorris are completely at odds as to what the facility will mean for the town and a stand-off is brewing.

On one side there is the Claremorris Alliance Group, which formed to oppose the Claremorris biopark. Members say they will fight the project every step of the way because it amounts to installing an incinerator in close proximity to homes, schools and farms on an unsuitable site.

On the other side are the promoters of the project and a second community group formed to support it, called Progress for Claremorris.

They say the biopark is a clean, green project that will bring at least 150 jobs and an investment of €30 million to the town.

Both groups are maintaining their stance is widely supported in the community.

Martin Cunniffe is a local businessman opposed to the biopark. He says the plant will pose a threat to human and animal health because of small particulate matter, called PM2.5, which will be emitted from the proposed chimneys. This PM2.5 has been associated with human health concerns, including serious heart problems.

But JP Prendergast, BioPharmMed West Ltd, project promoter, rejects this claim and says all that will be emitted is steam as it will install already commonly-used technology to capture any emissions.

Other concerns have been expressed about the term ‘biomass’. Biomass can include wood, grasses, crops, agricultural and municipal waste.

The promoters of the plant have undertaken to only burn woodchip but the Claremorris Alliance Group say this undertaking provides little security as to what will happen at the plant in the future.

Bernadette Mortimer is a teacher at a local school and a supporter of the Claremorris Alliance Group. She said she is “very concerned” about the proposed project. “There are health considerations here for children and adults. We want to highlight it before it’s too late, before it’s a fact and we are living with the consequences.”

Planning for the biopark at a 20-acre site, comprising biopharma and biomedical industry and a CHP plant, was granted by Mayo County Council in early 2013. That planning permission was subsequently overturned last August following a number of appeals to An Bord Pleanala.

An Bord Pleanala deemed the development to be on an unsuitable site and not zoned for such development.

Mr Prendergast said Claremorris has already lost 60 jobs, which had been earmarked for the town at the biopark, because the project was strongly opposed and delayed last time.

Claremorris councillor Richard Finn recently submitted a proposal to have the site zoned ‘opportunity development’ to allow the project to go ahead. County manager Peter Hynes is now considering that proposal and will make a recommendation for the consideration of elected members. It is widely expected the county manager will recommend the site be rezoned.

Councillor Finn said he was so convinced the project was good for Claremorris that he would hang his county council seat on it. “Even if I lost my council seat on this, I wouldn’t mind as long as I saw this project come through,” he explained.

“All we want is that this project be given an opportunity to go to the planning process again and if there are any objectors at that stage, they can take it to An Bord Pleanala.”

With the Claremorris Alliance Group holding a public meeting next week to rally support against the project, and promising to “strenuously fight” this proposal, it looks set to have a rocky road ahead of it.

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