An Bord Pleanála has given the largest alumina refinery in Europe on the Shannon estuary the green light for contentious plans to expand its bauxite residue disposal area (BRDA) to allow the refinery to continue to operate until 2039.
The appeals board has granted planning permission to the Russian-owned Aughinish Alumina Ltd for the BRDA, despite the opposition of local farmers and environmental groups, Environmental Trust Ireland and Futureproof Clare.
The BRDA already in place has capacity to provide for bauxite residue - or 'red mud' - until 2030 at the refinery site in west Limerick and the new extension will extend the lifetime of the BRDA up to 2039.
The proposed development at the refinery will provide for the deposition of one million m3 per annum, which will allow for a projected additional deposition of eight million m3 of bauxite residue in total.
The proposed increase in the disposal capacity will result in an increase in the height of sections of the BRDA by 12 metres.
On behalf of the Cappagh Farmers Support Group, Pat Geoghegan objected to the BRDA expansion as he said "it will exacerbate the potential for an environmental disaster and it would put huge pressure on the existing embankment walls".
The group warned that if an environmental disaster occurs at the location as a result of a grant of permission, the Board will have nowhere to hide.
Environmental Trust Ireland contended that the proposal "is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen".
However, in recommending planning permission, Bord Pleanála Inspector, Paul Caprani, concluded that the third party observations submitted "have not provided any substantive evidence that the BRDA is structurally deficient to the extent that any such breakout of bauxite residue is likely or imminent".
He said that evidence presented before the Board "overwhelmingly suggests that any such breakout ranges from 'very unlikely' to ‘negligible’".
In response to objectors’ concerns, planning consultants for Aughinish Alumina, Tom Phillips and Associates stated that "any suggestion that the existing facility at Aughinish will exacerbate threats to the environment and to human and animal health is not supported by evidence".
The planning consultancy stated that the proposed development "is wholly compliant with national, regional and local policy and that prescribed bodies have not raised any concerns in relation to the proposed development".
The consultants stated that Bauxite residue is categorised as "a non-hazardous waste" under the European Waste Code and that the proposed development "will assist in the long-term economic sustainability of the facility and of the region".
The appeals board has given the scheme the go-ahead after concluding that the proposed development "would not be prejudicial to public health and would be acceptable in terms of its impact on the amenities of the area.