Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

3:00 am

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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This is a subject dear to the Minister's heart, given that it is in his local constituency, Galway West. Will he ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will outline the current status of the sewerage scheme for An Spidéal and supply a timeframe for its delivery?

This has been an issue for many years. Raw sewage is currently pumped into the bay via a 100 m pipe from a holding tank opposite the craft centre or the old hotel near the main beach. The pipe had £60,000 of repairs done to it ten years ago after it had burst, resulting in a fountain of raw sewage pumping out in summers gone by. The council always claimed the sea and the prevailing south-west wind dealt with the outfall. The community of An Spidéal now has proof that the main beach is covered with toxins; it lost its blue flag in 2006.

At the time of the repairs in 1997, Galway County Council eventually agreed to put An Spidéal on a priority list. The community there was promised that within three years there would be a new sewage treatment plant. Each year the new list would come from politicians, via the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the local community development group would find out it was still stuck at the bottom. It was promised that a new treatment plant, capable of treating sewage in An Spidéal would be in place by 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009 but nothing has happened to date.

A county councillor rang in the last few days about another issue and was informed that the list of waste water schemes was before the council again, with a promised completion date of 2012. "Another lie," as the councillor termed it.

The newspapers, TG4 and local radio stations have publicised the issue during the years. The plant will cost €3.5 million and cater for up to 1,000 households. In 2005-06, Pettit and Company carried out an intense survey of the existing system and made proposals. We never saw those proposals or were consulted about them. The report has been delayed and we are not sure if it the Department has even seen it. The water services section within the council is not pushing the scheme. The cryptosporidium in Lough Corrib, because of towns pumping sewage into the lough, has pushed An Spidéal down the list, given the lough's importance to the city water supply.

Around the same time, a developer wanted to knock down and rebuild an old hotel at the beach. He proposed a sewage treatment plant at a cost of €300,000 that would serve the hotel and the village for up to ten years until the new scheme was built. Galway County Council rejected this short-term solution and also refused the hotel application on the grounds of over-density.

The community cannot understand the divergence in costs, the bureaucracy and the continued delay, where An Spidéal is constantly put to the bottom of the list. An Spidéal is a beautiful place with huge potential for tourism. It is important to those who live there that the water is safe and the bay is safe to swim in; they know that is not the case since the blue flag was removed.

We want a limited sewage treatment plant to prevent the building of too many housing estates in future and to stop the impact too many new houses might have on the Irish language. These are the feelings of the local community. I want to hear positive news from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, how it will work with the council to deliver this, and a timeframe for delivery.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Gabhaim buíochas den Seanadóir as ucht an cheist seo a thógáil. Mar a dúirt sí, tá eolas an-mhaith agam ar an gceantar. Tá mé pósta le bean as An Spidéal agus tá an-spéis agam in ábhar ar bith a bhaineann leis an áit. D'fhoilsigh an tAire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil clár cuimsitheach do sheiribhísí nua uisce le bheith déanta sa tréimhse ama faoin gclár infheistíochta do sheirbhísí uisce 2010-12.

With the changed economic climate and the finalisation of the first cycle of the river basin management plans, the new water services investment programme aims to prioritise projects that target environmental compliance issues. It also fully supports economic and employment growth as envisaged in the Government's policy document, Building Ireland's Smart Economy - A Framework for Sustainable Economic Revival. The scope and format of the programme for 2010 to 2012 is designed to reflect better ongoing environmental and economic priorities, to maximise the return on public funds being invested in the sector and to ensure the programme is realistic in its level of ambition. The total value of contracts under way and contracts proposed for commencement during the period of the programme in County Galway is approximately €130 million. The Spiddal sewerage scheme is included in the programme among the list of schemes in the county to advance through planning in this period.

The Minister is aware that Spiddal has a collection network but no wastewater treatment plant and that untreated sewage is currently discharged directly to Galway Bay, near designated bathing areas. Although I understand the bathing water quality results, as published annually by the Environmental Protection Agency, for the Spiddal area in recent years have met the minimum statutory requirements, as Senator Healy Eames stated the beaches there have lost their blue flag status.

Under the Spiddal sewerage scheme, Galway County Council proposes to upgrade the existing collection network and provide a new wastewater treatment plant to serve the village, at an estimated cost of €5 million. The new infrastructure will provide the appropriate level of treatment of discharges into the bay. The Minister understands that the council is reviewing the design of the proposed scheme with the view to submitting its revised design proposals to his Department during the summer. Once the Department has approved the revised proposals, the council can then prepare the contract documents on which it will eventually seek tenders for the scheme.

In general, the length of time taken for schemes included in the water services investment programme to advance the completion of construction largely depends on the nature and complexity of the scheme and the statutory processes involved. The Department is involved at key stages in the development of schemes to ensure compliance with obligations relating to management and oversight of Exchequer expenditure. Ultimately, responsibility for the detailed progression of schemes is a matter for the relevant local authority.

The Department will continue to work closely with Galway County Council to ensure the scheme and the other water services contracts and schemes included in the council's water services investment programme are advanced as far as practicable over the course of the next three years.

Tá dul chun cinn maith á dhéanamh faoi seo. Tá sé idir lámha ag an chomhairle contae agus tá súil agam go n-éireoidh léi é a chur ar aghaidh chuig an Roinn sa samhradh agus go mbeidh an Roinn in ann é a scrúdú go sciopthaí. Tiocfaidh sé ar ais go dtí an chomhairle contae ansin agus beidh cead aici ansin na doiciméid chonartha a réiteach. Nuair a bheidh siad réitithe, beidh ar an scéim dul chun tairiscne agus mar sin. Scéim thábhachtach í seo agus tá fíor-áthas orm bheith in ann cur in iúl don Seanadóir go bhfuil an scéim clúdaithe sa chlár 2010-12.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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From this, I understand Spiddal can expect to have its sewerage scheme by 2013. Given there are other schemes also waiting in the area, in Oughterard and Clifden, how does the Minister rank them in order of delivery?

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have that detailed information. I have always found that when many schemes are progressing the issues that determine how fast a scheme goes forward, as we saw in the schemes in Connemara, are planning, objections, negotiations and discussions. I imagine that with a scheme such as this, if it is ready to go, it will go. It is imperative the county council sends it as quickly as possible to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and that the Part 8 is passed by the county council in due course. All of these are issues in the progressing of schemes. Often, it is not a question of a fixed priority; it is a question of which scheme is ready to go ahead first which depends on issues outside the control of the Department.