| 8.8°C Dublin

City Council sidesteps Gormley

ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley was effectively sidestepped today as Dublin City Council moved to buy land for the controversial Poolbeg project.

In a move seen as a snub to Mr Gormley, the City Council has issued a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for 65 plots of land along the coastline.

The minister, who has repeatedly opposed construction of the plant in his own constituency, has yet to approve a foreshore licence to allow building of a water cooling system needed for the €200m treatment facility.

By seeking to buy the land, the Council will not need the licence. But it must seek permission from An Bord Pleanala to execute the orders on each of the 65 sites involved.

If there are objections to the CPO from owners, leaseholders or occupiers, it could lead to further delays.

The move came after the council's joint venture partner, US company Covanta Energy, asked the local authority to "get the ball rolling" on the €200m plant.

The paperwork has been sitting on the minister's desk for months but no decision on the foreshore licence, first lodged two years ago, has emerged.

Dublin City Council said it was issuing the CPO because of "considerable delays" that were "hindering progress".

"Due to delays in obtaining a foreshore licence, Dublin City Council has published its intention to acquire the required lands on the foreshore at Poolbeg Peninsula by CPO," Assistant City Manager Seamus Lyons said.

"We have taken the decision on foot of a request by our project partners, Covanta, due to considerable delays," he said.

"This delay is hindering progress on construction of the plant. By acquiring the relevant section of foreshore through a CPO, Covanta will be able to progress construction of the Dublin Waste to Energy plant."

It has planning permission from An Bord Pleanala, a waste licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, permission from the Commission for Energy Regulation to generate energy and was approved by the Department of the Environment.

A spokesman for the department said Mr Gormley could not comment on the move as he was precluded from doing so under the planning acts.

But he said the taxpayer could be "massively exposed" to penalty payments if the deal goes ahead.

"This begets the lie that the minister was delaying this. They could have gone down this route previously. It's not unexpected because the council signalled it would go down this road."

The City Council said it was not withdrawing the application for a foreshore licence. If it was granted first, the CPO process would not be further pursued.

Covanta will bear the cost of buying the land involved, but it is not yet known how much this will cost.

Covanta's European president, Scott Whitney, said last month that the delay in obtaining the foreshore licence was the biggest single obstacle to work starting on the incinerator.

The four Dublin local authorities have a legal agreement to supply 320,000 tonnes of waste to the facility each year.

They will have to pay significant financial penalties to Covanta if they do not supply the agreed amount of waste.

The poolbeg process . . .

October, 2007: John Gormley claims a network of incinerators is not necessary and there is no need for a facility in Poolbeg.

December, 2008: The EPA grant a licence for the plant. Mr Gormley, in a statement, says his personal position as a local resident and public representative in regard to incineration has not changed. "However, as Minister, I work within a legal framework put in place by the Oireachtas, which forbids my intervention."

July 1, 2010: Mr Gormley says on RTE radio: "If this goes ahead my national waste policy will not go ahead."

July 19: The minister says there has been a "co-ordinated campaign" claiming the State would face fines if the incinerator did not go ahead.

"That's absolutely untrue. It's scaremongering. I would never allow anything like that to happen as minister," he claims.

July 22: President of Covanta Europe Scott Whitney says: "As a judge he [Gormley] seems to be saying I know you are guilty but I will give you a fair trial before I hang you."

He adds that his company is the biggest incinerator company in the world, but has never encountered a set of circumstances similar to Ireland.

July 23: A spokesperson for Mr Gormley says: "The Government's priority in waste-management policy is the taxpayer and the consumer. We will not be dictated to by private companies."