€44m extension at Tara zinc mine faces planning delays
A €44m extension to Europe's biggest zinc mine, at Tara in Co Meath, could be delayed as planners weigh up an oral hearing for a huge dam to store mining waste
An Bord Pleanála had been due to decide by this month on the application by Swedish mining group Boliden for a huge extension to a so-called tailings dam which holds the discarded mining by-products after ore is separated
However, if an oral hearing is granted it will push back a decision date by months, an An Bord Pleanála spokesman predicted.
If an oral heading is not granted by the planning watchdog, it would still likely be May at the earliest before An Bord Pleanála publishes a decision in the case.
In January, Boliden announced that it would invest €44m in the Tara zinc mine - the world's eighth-largest - having found additional reserves that will increase its lifespan by at least six years. The mine employs about 700 people.
The new find - called Tara Deep - will also make Tara one of the world's deepest mines, with fresh ore located up to 1.9km below the surface.
Some experts reckon the mine will still be commercially producing ore in 20 years' time. By that stage, the mine would be 60 years old, having opened in 1977.
Mikael Staffas, the president of Boliden Mines told investors in January that the group is hopeful that more ore reserves will be found at Tara.
He said the company had not yet finished exploring around the new find.
The planning application to extend the capacity of the mine's tailings dam has been approved by Meath County Council but was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by a number of local residents.
The extension to the dam will extend over 58 hectares and provide storage capacity for about 9.6m cubic metres of mine tailings.
Boliden had been hoping to commence work on the project this year and complete it by 2019.
The current dam capacity limits the life of the mine to 2020.
The extension will enable production until 2026. Mr Staffas said that after that, it's not clear how the company could provide additional tailings capacity.