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  Good riddance to 2015

Good riddance to 2015 – A bad year for Cape Clear Island

The Cape Clear Island Community can only look forward with trepid  and perhaps forlorn hope that 2016 will turn out to be better than 2015.

2015 started out with great hope, the strong possibility of a once in a generation project to create 12-20 jobs in a community in long term decline. This was the proposed distillery which has been warmly supported at a public meeting in July 2014.

The Island has stoically struggled with years of water shortages from the public water service but equally, irrefutable geological evidence exists of copious untapped water sources in various parts. None more so indeed than during the severe water shortage of 2014 when a number of wells failed but still a flow of 177 m3 per day was recorded in the two streams flowing past the water distribution tanker in South Harbour. Rainfall was also 113% above average.

During that autumn the Comhrchumann commissioned the first science based Geological/hydrological survey of the Island and drilled a number of wells which between them yielded almost 150m3 per day, a truly spectacular result equivalent to the total needs of the Community. This cost €44,000. The stage was set for a planning application in January 2015.

Two days after Cork C.C. was informed of the successful water drilling their Environment Directorate announced that they would not now permit the project to proceed because of a possible danger from the proposed percolation area to the four wells serving the public water supply. Given that a discharge to sea would require foreshore and other licenses causing a further delay of 1-2 years delay the Investor considered that this made it unviable and decided to abandon it after a total spend of €104,000.

Frantic efforts were made to find an alternative solution, including the transfer of existing foreshore licenses but this proved not to be legally possible. Finally on 6 March a meeting was arranged in County Hall to seek a resolution.

Prior to the meeting expert advice was obtained that land based percolation poses no risk at all to a public water supply provided that it is located outside the catchment area for the supply. It is in fact the legal responsibility of a public water provider to establish ‘zones of contribution’ around wells and various activities should be prevented or curtailed within those zones. As it turned out, no zones of contribution have been established to protect the public wells on the Island upon which the Community depends. Irish Water have indicated this matter will be addressed by them.

It became apparent early in the meeting of 6 March that a solution along these lines was feasible whereupon it was indicated that the Environment Directorate now regarded all the water sources on the Island as ‘pristine’ and would object to land based percolation anywhere on the Island even where shown to pose no risk at all to a public water supply.

The Investor promptly withdrew from the project which caused another well attended public meeting. In the days that followed Cork County Council rowed back on the position adopted at the meeting but it was too late to keep the investor on board.

In the months that followed a further €40,000 was raised amongst the Community and Údarás na Gaeltachta to continue with the planning application and this was submitted in September.

The first planning application was ‘invalidated’ due to the location of the planning notice, including a requirement to place a planning notice on the main Island pier which is 2miles ( by road) from the site. This delayed the project further and cost €2,438.75 in additional fees.

This was the second time in 2015 that important planning applications on Cape Clear have been invalidated and delayed due to issues with planning notices. This is inconsistent with the intention and spirit of the planning guidelines as confirmed by Minister Alan Kelly in the Dáil on 10 November 2015.  Many in the Community object strenuously to the strange requirement that planning notices for the Island be erected on Piers in Baltimore and elsewhere. Senior Counsel have advised that there is no legal basis for this and that the Planners are acting ‘ultra vires’.

Following the resubmission of the planning application a request for further information has been received with 17 detailed questions. The best estimate of the cost of answering all this questions is €52,000. We don’t know, yet where this money can be found.

2016 is the anniversary of the foundation of this state and it would be fitting that Islanders too would be regarded as full citizens of this county and should be treated the same as everyone else. It’s highly ironic, given the heroic and much appreciated works on the Pier and further works planned on the water system that the Island’s demise as a viable community seems to loom larger every day.

email:   telephone: 028 41923