Monday, January 24, 2011

Former steel site has cost taxpayer €50 million | The Post

Former steel site has cost taxpayer €50 million
23 January 2011 By John Burke Public Affairs Correspondent

The state has spent €50 million clearing hazardous waste from the former Ispat Irish steelworks site in Cork harbour - almost twice the original estimate.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Business Post also reveal that the state has agreed to pay a €1.8 million settlement to a company that was contracted to clean up the site.

The state is also expected to pay an estimated €378,000 in legal costs in addition to the settlement with Hammond Lane Metals Company, following a row over unpaid invoices for remedial work at the Haulbowline site.

The revelations are contained in briefing documents prepared for Geraldine Tallon, secretary general at the Department of Environment prior to her appearance before the Da¤ il’s spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee. According to the documents , an ‘‘unforeseen problem arose as a result of the ongoing site surface clearance and related to the uncovering and excavation by the contractor of a sub-surface sludge pit of hazardous waste’’.

They continued that, ‘‘owing to the potential extent and nature of the buried hazardous waste, [and] the extent of the minimum works required to remove the risk of environmental pollution remaining unclear . . . the contractors were instructed to stop all extraction of the undisturbed buried material’’.

‘‘Despite repeated instructions to stop these unauthorised works, including from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office . . . the contractors continued to excavate significant volumes of undisturbed buried hazardous material," said the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

It was previously known that the company had sued environment minister John Gormley, claiming that it was owed a significant sum of money.

This happened after the minister terminated a contract with the company, which had been hired in 2007 to conduct the surface clean-up at the site.

The firm sued the state for almost €8.1million.

Irish Ispat went into liquidation in 2001, and the state took custody of the site, leaving the exchequer responsible for a site investigation to decide if remedial action was needed. Examinations have found that there is no obvious threat to human or marine welfare.

However, the National Cancer Registry figures for 1994-2005 showed that nearby Cobh had cancer levels 44 per cent above the national average.

The NCR data was published in 2009. Former minister for health Mary Harney ruled out a health baseline study in the area, despite calls from local politicians, according to the documents.

The European Commission has also written to the Department of Environment, insisting that the site should have the correct waste permit to allow continued remediation of the former steelworks.

This followed a High Court ruling that the integrated pollution control licence granted to Irish Ispat was not valid.

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