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Saturday 23 August 2014

Key concern over power lines is 'risk to children'

MAEVE SHEEHAN

Published 16/03/2014 | 02:30

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Low angle view of an electricity pylon
Health concerns are the main cause for complaints

MANY of the 35,000 submissions protesting at EirGrid's €500m plans to run overhead power lines across 10 counties related to health concerns, particularly around children, according to a report the state agency sent to Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.

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EirGrid has so far refused to publish the submissions, saying that it will take months to go through them.

However, a review it sent to the minister suggested there was overwhelming public opposition to the project.

Health concerns were among nine "key themes" identified by EirGrid in the report, which was sent to the Mr Rabbitte in January, after the public consultation process on the pylon project closed.

The scale of opposition in the report prompted Mr Rabbitte to explore laying the power cables underground. Days after receiving it, he announced that he was setting up an independent commission headed by a High Court judge to investigate the feasibility of undergrounding the system.

The report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, included submissions from ordinary citizens, industry groups, politicians, State agencies and farming organisations and communities. But there was no reference to any of the submissions being in favour of the plan.

Health concerns centred on the electro-magnetic fields generated by high-voltage power lines.

The report said: "Feedback indicates a lack of trust in the scientific evidence provided and heightened concerns were expressed in relation to children, and in particular, proximity to schools."

In the report, EirGrid said there was a widely held view that power lines could go underground, that the process was not as expensive as claimed, and that the option should have been part of the public consultation process.

EirGrid said "many submissions" related to the way it communicated and engaged with members of the public".

The equine industry and farmers raised concerned about the impact on farms and businesses, and the effects on animals.

According to the EirGrid report, concerns were raised that horses, especially thoroughbreds, may be especially sensitive to noise from high-voltage lines.

EirGrid reported feedback that property values would be affected and that many people questioned the amount of compensation that might be available for those affected.

The other main areas of concern were on the visual impact on the countryside and in areas of natural beauty; on tourism; the impact on bio-diversity, on protected sites and species;

Within days of getting EirGrid's report, Mr Rabbitte set up an independent commission, chaired by retired judge Catherine McGuinness, to investigate the feasibility of undergrounding the power lines.

The minister has said both the overhead and underground options will be published side-by-side before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation.

EirGrid is also carrying out its own investigation into the potential cost and visual aspects of putting its proposed lines underground.

Sunday Independent

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