Aughinish Alumina expansion appealed in High Court

Aughinish Alumina (creative common licence)

Environmental groups challenge Rusal Alumina in High Court tomorrow over expansions to waste pits

By Sean Finnan

Futureproof Clare alongside an alliance of environmental groups have launched a Judicial Review against An Bord Pleanála’s decision to allow an expansion to the Rusal Aughinish Alumina red mud waste disposal area on the Shannon.

The matter is in the High Court tomorrow, November 8, for the hearing of the application to be granted leave to apply for Judicial Review.

Last December, Rusal, the Russian owners of Aughinish Alumina, applied for planning permission to raise the maximum height of its bauxite residue disposal area (BRDA) – or “red mud” lake – to 44 metres, and raise the salt cake level, a hazardous material, to a new maximum of 35 metres.

An aerial view of Aughinish Alumina (Photo Credit Liam Burke)

The lake of unlined red sludge, made up of bauxite residue,  is located adjacent to a Special Protected Area on the Shannon Estuary.

The coalition of groups, including Futureproof Clare, Ecojustice Ireland and Cappagh Farmers Group, are pursuing a judicial review in response to An Bord Pleanála decision to grant planning permission for the expansion of the Bauxite Disposal Area, extension to the existing Salt Cake Disposal Cell and extension of the permitted borrow pit.

Emma Karran of Futureproof Clare says, “The dam containing red sludge at Aughinish is currently estimated to hold between 50-75 million tonnes of bauxite waste. Many local people believe that human and animal health have already been affected by residues in the area, and toxic waste from the plant may be polluting the waters.”

Rusal also wants to expand its borrow pit to facilitate further blasting of rock on-site to provide material for expanding the BRDA. A borrow pit is a term used in construction for a hole, pit, or excavation that has been dug for the purposes of removing gravel, clay and sand used in a construction project such as when building an overpass.

Rusal have stated that the rock blasting and expansion of the red mud waste site is necessary to extend the lifetime of the production facility until 2039.

Tim Hannon of Futureproof Clare explained, “An Bord Pleanala’s decision to grant planning permission for the extension of the red mud disposal area  did not examine the connection with the existing Alumina production facility, and did not address the observed environmental impacts which were acknowledged in previous planning applications to An Bord Pleanála and industrial emissions licence applications to the EPA.  Our legal advisors are of the opinion that this represents an error of law by failing to take into account the overall environmental impacts of the Aughinish facility in deciding to permit further expansion of the red mud disposal area.”

Sinéad Sheehan, also of Futureproof Clare claimed “If the dam were to breach, we would see the largest environmental catastrophe ever in Ireland. Our legal team have advised us that Rusal did not carry out sufficient environmental assessment to determine that the proposed expansion would be safe in the context of the environmental impact of already existing infrastructure there. The last thing we want is a red mud spill in an area of conservation on the Shannon”.

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