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Wednesday 24 April 2019

Peat extraction firm says it faces closure if EPA gets injunctions

Stock photo
Stock photo

Tim Healy

A peat extraction company has told the High Court its business faces closure if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gets injunctions aimed at halting the firm's wet peat extraction activities in the midlands.

Harte Peat says 50 jobs depend on its business continuing and the injunctions would also seriously impact on the mushroom industry here as the firm provides much of the wet peat used for mushroom casings.

The EPA wants the injunctions pending a full hearing of issues between the sides.

It says the matter is urgent because it learned in September 2018 the company was engaged in extraction of wet peat up to five metres deep at an unlicensed site at Derrycrave in Co Westmeath.

The EPA’s concern is the depth at which the extraction is occurring.

It claims a 2012 water discharge licence application by the company related to the activity only covered a depth of two metres.

Peat harvesting companies are required to obtain an Integrated Pollution Prevention Control licence where peat extraction is carried out in an area of land exceeding 50 hectares.

The Derrycrave site is one of several on which the EPA argues Harte Peat is carrying out unregulated peat harvesting activities above the 50ha threshold.

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The firm argues the areas where it is harvesting peat are individually less than 50 hectares and, as such, it does not require a license.

On Wednesday, Harte’s counsel Michael McDowell  told Mr Justice Charles Meenan the firm has been engaged in wet peat extraction activity, using diggers, 50 weeks a year for two decades and there was nothing “secret” about it.

The EPA had “constructively” known of the activity for some six years and no new “game changer” has arisen to justify the court making the orders sought which would close his client’s business, he said.  

Earlier, when moving the injunctions application, Niamh Hyland SC, for the EPA, said it was initiated following the discovery in September 2018 Harte Peat is extracting wet peat on 11 hectares up to a depth of five metres at the Derrycrave site.

The EPA claims Harte Peat is not entitled to carry out such activity on the site without IPPC  and water discharge licenses and planning permission and says the company has none of those.

The EPA contends the activity is “highly damaging to the environment” and is causing “irreparable damage to the raised bog”.  

The site also has potential to impact Lough Derravaragh, a protected area for the wide range of bird species that use the lake throughout the year, Ms Hyland said.

The court heard Harte disputes it is required to have planning permission.

The case continues.

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