Tuesday 17 September 2019

New Ross port takeover to unlock river’s potential

Port takeover by council is imminent but will be costly due to expected environmental issues at oil tanks

The oil tanks on the quay which are the subject of negotiations between the council and Department of Transport
The oil tanks on the quay which are the subject of negotiations between the council and Department of Transport

David Looby

The transfer of New Ross Port to Wexford County Council is due to take place within the coming months and will lead to great opportunities for the development of the quays area of the town.

This is the view of director of services for economic development with Wexford County Council, Tony Larkin who addressed the monthly meeting of New Ross Municipal District.

Mr Larkin said the 'bottom tier' ports in Ireland are being transferred to local authorities.

'It's New Ross' turn. We have been in negotiations with the Department of Transport for two years. We've been doing due diligence on the port company and I compliment the work of the port company.'

He said the company is being disbanded and will merge into the council.

Mr Larkin said the transfer could occur as soon as May or June, and would have already taken place if not for some cost issues involving the removal of the oil tanks on the quay and the cost of draining the Barrow.

For the transfer to take place three ministers have to sign the transfer letter.

'We are getting to the end game. This will open up the opportunity for the council to look at revitalising the quay front and develop tourist opportunities. Once the port transfers over to us the assets and liabilities will transfer. We have to make arrangements for shipping.'

Mr Larkin said all of the port staff's jobs are secure, with no issues concerning pensions or redundancies.

Cllr Michael Whelan welcomed the good news.

Cllr Michael Sheehan thanked Mr Larkin for the work the council's economic special policy committee has done for the town in the past year.

Regarding the port he said it would be very unfair for the Government to transfer the port company to the council without providing funds for the removal of the oil tanks. He asked if a draft plan for the area and port has been drawn up, adding that activity at the port and at Stokestown has dwindled in recent decades.

'Our priority should be to get them back doing commerce and trade,' Cllr Sheehan said.

Mr Larkin said: 'Our first priority is to ensure the shipping is running. The next priority is the taking down of the oil tanks and putting remedial works in place there. The port has faced some challenges since the oil stopped going through it. Business has declined. We will be open to new opportunities but I want to be realistic. I have met a lot of the major customers of the port. It's obvious in my discussions with them that they all have a positive outlook but it isn't likely to be a step change. If we can hold on to what we have for the next ten years it will be a reasonable outcome.'

Mr Larkin said he doesn't foresee Wexford County Council investing heavily in the port apart from cleaning up the oil tanks and investing in tourism.

'It's on the same river as the port of Waterford which also serves the region. We want good relations with them.'

Cllr Martin Murphy asked if there will be a huge cost involved in removing the tanks, adding that there may be very serious contamination issues on the site.

'Would it all have to be dug up or could we deal with it in another way?'

Cllr Murphy said the harbour board building on the quay would be the ideal location for a tourist office.

'With the emphasis on tourism going forward in New Ross and with all of the great hopes for developing the history and legacy of William Marshal a tourist office would be very important and it's a perfect location with the port company owning the land.'

Cllr Willie Fitzharris enquired as to how far the port extends and was told by Mr Larkin that it stretches the length of the river, but in practical terms the company will manage the ships that dock beyond Marshmeadows and across the river.

He said the harbourmaster's building will transfer into the ownership of Wexford County Council.

'Taking down the oil tanks will be expensive and it's pretty certain there will be contamination. We are talking about substantial costs and it's one of the primary things we are arguing with the department; namely that we should not incur those costs. We have a design in place for the quay area but there are a number of environmental issues that need addressing this year or next year that will be a priority.'

Cllr Larry O'Brien said he was concerned taking over the running of the port will cost the council a fortune.

'I wouldn't have any great concerns about what is under the tanks. There was molasses in them and they are well plumbed. My concern is for the hundreds of ships in the quay. Last year we had a ship that got blocked for two days in mud in the river. That river is not being dredged at the moment and that is going to be a major issue. The port of Waterford are dredging every week. There is a point off Stokestown near the new bridge that is very bad at the moment. It's going to cost someone a lot of money to keep it dredged.'

Mr Larkin said dredging of the Barrow and environmental issues surrounding the tanks are the main causes of concern for Wexford County Council.

'Of the two I would put the environment higher as once we own it we are responsible and we can't ignore them. We will have to do that no matter what. We are looking for cover on that cost from the department.'

Mr Larkin said it will cost millions of euros to dredge the Barrow, adding that the current limit for ships is 5,000 tonnes.

'It's taking around 80 ships a year. For the immediate future these ships can come in. We would need to dredge it in future. We have sought funding from the department; if we don't get it I don't see how the county council can justify putting it in. The customers say they don't see it as a big problem. The biggest drag is on the Marshmeadows side, but without central funding it will be very difficult. (As with all these issues) there is no money until there is money.'

New Ross Standard