LOCAL politicians have said they share the concerns of environmentalists over plans to build a huge gas storage facility at Islandmagee.
East Antrim MLAs Roy Beggs, Stewart Dickson and Oliver McMullan have echoed some of the fears expressed by more than 350 objectors and are calling for developers Islandmagee Gas Storage Ltd to do more to reassure residents about the safety of the scheme.
One of the main concerns is that marine habitat could be damaged by the dispersal of brine; a by-product from the creation of the underground storage caves.
Ulster Unionist representative Mr Beggs said: “I share the concern about the issue of the dispersal at sea of the brine which will be produced by leaching out caverns in the underground salt layers, and how it could affect the marine environment. Careful monitoring will be required to ensure the environmental impact does not have long reaching consequences.
“Fundamentally however, I believe that the genuine local concerns about this project are based upon the fact that Islandmagee has been subject to numerous major strategic energy projects over the years – such as the Moyle interconnector across the North Channel to Scotland and the new CCGT power station at Ballylumford. These all help keep the lights on all over Northern Ireland, but the local environment pays the price.
“There needs to be demonstrable community benefits for the local people who live around Larne Lough, and who are going to face disruption if this does get to the construction stage.”
Alliance man Mr Dickson added: “Whilst I appreciate that this project has the potential to provide energy security, I share some of the concerns of environmentalists.
“There are questions that remain unanswered over this proposal
“Many people, including myself, are concerned about the impact on marine and bird life. I am seeking clarity on how waste solution will be disposed of, and how it will impact on my constituency and the environment, both on and off shore.
“Residents are also concerned about the amount of heavy traffic that will come into the area during the construction phase,” Mr Dickson concluded.
Oliver McMullan (Sinn Fein) said he will continue to press for the brine outfall pipe to be extended further out to sea, adding: “I have very real fears for the lobster and crab fisheries, which are very important to the local economy. Can the developer guarantee that when this project is finished the shellfish will return to the affected area to breed?”
Mr McMullan raised the question of a promised £1 million windfall for the Islandmagee community. “This has been mooted in the past, but where is the detail?”
“How is it going to be administrated and who will administrate it?
“And if this is about compensating local people, will some of the money go to those lobster and crab fishermen whose livelihoods are going to be affected?”
Developer IMSL commented: “A commitment has been given by IMSL to set up a charitable trust as part of a unilateral undertaking contribution. A dedicated community liason consultant for the trust has been in place for some time, working with residents to gather ideas for trust support, once full funding for the project is in place.”
Friends of Larne Lough (FoLL) will press IMSL to construct a coastal path connecting with the train at Whitehead, Larne and Ballycarry and using the cross-harbour ferry at Larne.
“This would take in the shore of Larne Lough and Islandmagee and connect with the proposed Gobbins path and the existing path from Whitehead.”