Gas storage firm denies giving residents ‘the runaround’

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DEVELOPERS behind a proposed gas storage project at Islandmagee have been accused of “giving the runaround” to local residents and key stakeholder groups.

Nigel Hamilton, chairman of the Marine Conservation Northern Ireland and a member of the East Antrim Marine Alliance, claimed Islandmagee Storage Limited (IMSL) are “reluctant to come face to face” with local people to discuss the controversial plan, which would see the creation of underground caverns deep beneath Larne Lough with the capacity to store up to 500 million cubic metres of natural gas.

IMSL is a joint venture between InfraStrata and Mutual Energy, which owns the Moyle Electricity interconnector that links the power grid in Northern Ireland with Scotland’s.

And Mr Hamilton expressed his frustration at being “unable” to readily access information about the project directly from the company, describing IMSL’s organisational structure as being “like a layer cake”.

He added: “I have spent over a day wading through a number of front organisations which have the same directors and yet their staff claim to be unable to help when it comes to discussing the Islandmagee project.

“They boast an address of 17 Upper Ormeau Road, Belfast as the IMSL office in Northern Ireland, and while this is the office for Mutual Energy, they cannot give any information on IMSL but instead referred me to the office in England, which in fact is not IMSL but is instead Infrastrata’s head office and the director is unavailable.

“As a resident of Islandmagee and one who sits on the NI Seas Forum Steering Group, I am being denied the opportunity to debate constructively important aspects of the proposal which do not stand up as defined in the applicant’s environmental impact study.”

But IMSL has hit back against these claims, stating that it is “always willing” to meet anyone interested in the project.

A spokesperson for the company told the Times: “Over the past five years, IMSL has engaged in extensive consultation with interested parties, including local residents, public representatives and other stakeholder groups – including those opposed to the project. Two public exhibitions have been held on the project with a further one planned for summer 2013.

“In addition, a Q&A section has been available on the project website www.islandmageestorage.com for more than two years where any interested party can ask questions about the project and have them answered in an open forum.

“The contact details of IMSL’s local liaison officer are also posted on the website for more general queries.

“IMSL has specifically written to Mr Hamilton, as recently as last October, to offer him a meeting. That offer is still very much open.

“Whilst the directors of IMSL were not immediately available to speak to Mr Hamilton when he called recently, he was asked to forward his contact details and the nature of his query to IMSL and he is still welcome to do so.”

Mr Hamilton said a public meeting is to take place in Larne Golf Club on February 11 at 7.30pm, with speakers from NIEA, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other groups in attendance to update stakeholders and residents on the project and answer any questions.

He added: “We are trying to secure the attendance of representatives of IMSL, whose attendance would be both helpful and constructive.

“So far they seem reluctant to come face to face with the groups their application will impact upon, even though the management of the evening will be fair and tolerant.

“We are not holding a hanging meeting; we simply want to address concerns and have the applicants answer them honestly and impartially,” Mr Hamilton concluded.