Wicklow County Council has received over 230 submissions in relation to an application to develop a wind farm near Baltinglass.
ABO Wind Ltd have lodged planns to construct five 165m wind turbines at Kilranelagh Hill, outside Baltinglass. The project includes a 1km heritage trail and other associated site works.
Residents of the local area, local historians, elected members of Wicklow County Council, archaeologists and state bodies are among those who have lodged observations to the proposed development. Of the 233 observations, the majority outline concerns about the project's possible impact on the archaeology of the site and on the Baltinglass Hillfort Complex, which contains a cluster of nine hillforts.
The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has recommended the local authority refuse planning permission. While it noted a reduction in the proposed number of turbines and the inclusion of a heritage trail within the plans, the Department expressed the view that 'the proposed development is inappropriate within such a sensitive archaeological landscape and will cause a significant negative impact on the archaeological heritage' of the site.
The Department also outlined its concerns about the visual impact of the wind farm on the archaeological landscape of the area. It also stated that construction work would take place within the vicinity of national monuments and expressed concerns that the historical features of the site could be disturbed during the installation of wind turbines, despite proposals to mitigate the risk.
'The Department is concerned that the development of a windfarm at this location could potentially set a precedent for further similar developments at other hilltop locations within this nationally important archaeological landscape, which would detract from the current visual amenity of the Baltinglass area,' the statement added.
Objections were also submitted by residents of west Wicklow, local historians and groups including Save Wicklow's Ancient East and West Wicklow Wind Action Group. These outlined a variety of concerns about the proposed development including its potential effect on the archaeology of the area and on the biodiversity and ecology of the area. Worries were also expressed about the possible effects of noise and flicker on residents, local wildlife and livestock. Several objections submitted by residents of the area contained comments about the difficulty for residents to obtain permission to build homes in west Wicklow.
A number of elected members of Wicklow County Council submitted observations to the planning section.
In his submission, Cllr John Mullen observed that the development of a wind farm could 'turn an unspoilt rural upland landscape into an industrial landscape in a manner that can only be described as environmentally devastating'.
Cllr Avril Cronin stated her view about the Baltinglass Hillfort Complex's potential from heritage, cultural and tourism perspectives. In her observation, she called for the 'unique beauty' of the landscape to be protected.
Cllr Edward Timmins highlighted that some archaeological work had been completed on the Baltinglass Hillfort Complex and argued that the site was of national and international importance.
Cllr Joe Behan, Cllr Pat Kennedy, Cllr Mary Kavanagh, Cllr Gail Dunne, Cllr Mags Crean and Cllr Peir Leonard also submitted observations on the proposed development.
Former Wicklow TD Billy Timmins referred to initial archaeological investigations at the Baltinglass Hillfort Complex, which suggested the site 'was on a par with the Boyne Valley and Ceide Fields'. He expressed the view that the hillfort cluster could become a major tourism attraction for the county in future.
Social Democrats TD for Wicklow Jennifer Whitmore and Green Party TD Steven Matthews also sent observations to the planning section.
Wicklow Uplands Council observed that the project could pose a 'significant threat to the character of this historic upland landscape'. The group expressed its support for renewable energy, but suggested that alternative and less sensitive locations could be considered. This view was echoed by a number of observations.
Mountaineering Ireland and Rathdangan Local History Group also lodged submissions.
The Department of Defence also lodged an objection to the proposal. They note the military lands at the Glen of Imaal are the Defence Forces' largest training and live fire range and state that the wind farm would negatively impact the ability of Irish Air Corps aircraft to operate in this area. Concerns were also expressed that the wind farm could impact the ability of the Irish Air Corps aircraft to land and depart from Coolmoney Camp and take part in military exercises.
The Heritage Council also expressed opposition to the proposed wind farm, due to its possible impact on the Baltinglass Hillfort Complex. The national agency also suggested that 'consideration should be given to making a submission to lreland's UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List' in due course for the area, due to its cultural significance.
In its submissions, Failte Ireland asked the local authority to consider the potential impact on tourism and the amenity value of west Wicklow of the construction of a wind farm in west Wicklow.
Members of the Temple of Eiriu also expressed objections, describing the Kilranelagh area as a 'sacred place' where any development would impact on their religious practices. Other objections expressed unease about the proposed wind farm's proximity to a graveyard.
The Board of Management of Scoil Naomh Brid asked for further information about the potential impact of noise and flicker on the school building. Additionally, they expressed worries about increased traffic on the local roads during any construction.
Reports were also submitted to the planning section by other national bodies, following requests by the local authority.
Among these the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) suggested that if permission was granted the wind farm developer should be required to install an aeronautical obstacle warning light scheme and provide other information to the national agency.
Inland Fisheries Ireland noted the possibility of soil erosion at the proposed site during construction, which it said could affect nearby fisheries.
The planning section is expected to make a decision on ABO Wind's application for planning permission to develop five wind turbines at Kilranelagh Hill by March 23.