Askeaton is up the creek without a sewerage treatment plant

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FIANNA Fáil councillor Kevin Sheahan raised a stink at council level last week over plans by Irish Water to stall the upgrade of Askeaton’s Sewerage Treatment Scheme. Limerick Post reporter Alan Jacques visited the town this week to examine the issue.

7-10-16 Askeaton Sewerage_A“I WAS once told that the tide comes in and flushes out the Shannon Estuary twice a day. That was the best suggestion I was offered to deal with the sewage overflow in Askeaton.”

These were the words of former Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Kevin Sheahan at a council meeting in May 2015.

It’s a line I have heard the Askeaton politician repeat numerous times while expressing his frustrations at the lack of a sewerage treatment plant in his native town.

In his 32 years as a local representative, Sheahan has been campaigning for a proper sewerage system in Askeaton. His annoyance at the lack of progress was even more pronounced last week when addressing the council executive.

“I’m afraid that children swimming in the river or using it for boating could get polio. They do use it for these purposes,” he declared at the monthly Adare-Rathkeale Municipal District meeting.

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“We have been told reams of lies. We have been deceived and given false information. People have been misled and I won’t go away silently.”

After being promised last year that Askeaton was to be a priority for an upgraded sewerage treatment plant, plans were pulled for the project recently. Cllr Sheahan says he won’t take this latest blow lightly and has raised serious concerns about the “major health implications of raw sewage being pumped into the River Deel”.

The Limerick Post met with Cllr Sheahan in Askeaton this week along an overgrown area of riverbank where, he indicates, a sewerage pipe directly overhangs the Deel.

Instantly we are hit by the foul smell in the air. It smells like rotten eggs.

I am told it would be a lot worse if the wind were blowing in the opposite direction.

“There is all this talk about upgrading the sewerage system in Askeaton. But the thing is there was never a sewerage system here to begin with. It’s all lies,” Cllr Sheahan claims.

Cllr Kevin Sheahan at the River Deel in Askeaton.
Cllr Kevin Sheahan at the River Deel in Askeaton.

He also alleges that settlement beds, which have been in use since the early 1940s, are now disused.

“The settlement beds have been abandoned in the last few years. Local people often think I am exaggerating the situation. They don’t realise that the sewage flows directly from the town into the River Deel. It is not treated first. It just goes straight off into the river. This is a criminal act.

There is huge potential for this to affect people’s health. Children use the river, which is a wonderful amenity, for swimming and fishing. It is totally unacceptable. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has a role to play here. They are guardians of the environment and they have turned a blind eye to what’s going on in Askeaton for far too long. This cannot be allowed to go on.”

Cllr Sheahan tells me that the smell, which is lingering in the air during our visit, is affecting some local businesses.

“The tide comes in twice a day bringing the sewage with it. You can see the scum on the top of the water. If there’s a breeze blowing in that direction then the smell is absolutely rotten. When you think of all the money, all the taxes this town has given the State, it’s scandalous.

The land for the sewerage plant was purchased 20 years ago, but now Irish Water are saying they don’t have the funds after making it a priority last year. No place should have to put up with this kind of situation, but Askeaton is forgotten about.” he declares.

Local publican Josh Sheahan claims that the foul smell from the sewage has had an impact on his business.

“Customers have complained about it. They all got up and walked out of the pub one Sunday, the smell was so bad. It’s not good for business. It’s bad for the whole town and something needs to be done about it,” he said.

Cllr Sheahan is now calling on the EPA to send a delegation to meet with councillors at the next Adare-Rathkeale Municipal District meeting to address the matter. He has also called on the three TDs for County Limerick —Tom Neville (FG), Patrick O’Donovan (FG) and Niall Collins (FF) – to raise the issue as a matter of urgency at Dáil Éireann.

The Limerick Post contacted them about the issue this week.

“It’s beyond belief that the town of Askeaton is waiting so long for an upgrade of the waste water treatment system,” said Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins.

7-10-16 Askeaton Sewerage_G“I have made endless representations to the Government about this. People’s health is being impacted very negatively as a result of the present inadequate scheme. Does someone have to die as a result of this before they finally decide to sort this problem?

I will be raising this matter in Dáil Éireann directly with the Minister responsible this week,” Deputy Collins added.

Fine Gael TD Tom Neville says that he has sought clarification from the Minister on the matter and to also outline any communication that may have taken place between Limerick City and County Council, Irish Water and the Department.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Patrick O’Donovan TD, believes the situation in Askeaton needs to be examined by Irish Water.

“I have asked them to do that. The issue in relation to Askeaton’s need for an upgraded sewerage treatment works has been on the agenda ever before the advent of Irish Water when the matter was subject to the operation and control by Limerick County Council and it is not acceptable that the issue was not addressed in that period,” said Minister O’Donovan.

“We are in the process as a government of ensuring that projects which were neglected for years under the previous system are prioritised and as a TD for Limerick I am aware of many places like Askeaton which are in need of investment and I intend on raising this with Irish Water.

“Cllr Sheahan is correct that former local authority sewerage treatment works were among the worst offenders of surface water pollution and that was one of the reasons that we established a single utility to address the issue,” the Fine Gael politician explained.

When contacted this week the local authority pointed out that Irish Water has responsibility for the water infrastructure across the country.

“Limerick City and County Council carries out work on behalf of Irish Water through a Service Level Agreement. A decision about upgrading the Askeaton sewerage scheme is a matter for Irish Water,” a spokesman said.

Irish Water is currently carrying out projects around the country to upgrade wastewater treatment infrastructure following decades of underinvestment. The Irish Water Business Plan to 2021 projects an investment of €1.25 billion on wastewater quality projects and a further €700 million on wastewater capacity projects.

Delivering this investment, they say, “will address, as a priority, agglomerations not meeting EU requirements on wastewater treatment and capacity and ensure continued compliance across the country”.

A spokeswoman for Irish Water said that Askeaton Waste Water Treatment Plant has been assessed and, while it falls outside the highest priority treatment areas identified, it will be delivered upon in coming investment cycles.

The wastewater treatment scheme in Askeaton.
The wastewater treatment scheme in Askeaton.

“A design review of all previous studies and reports on the Askeaton Scheme is now complete and an options report is now subject to review by Irish Water to ensure its readiness for progression to detailed design and construction, where the opportunity arises within the delivery programme of the 2017-2021 Investment Plan,” she said.

Gerry Siney of the River Shannon Protection Alliance (RSPA) insists that raw untreated sewage entering the River Deel or any other river is intolerable in this day and age.

“The council is correct in crying foul. This situation gives rise to serious risk to human health, and to flora and fauna of both the Deel and the Shannon at the same time, and calls for remedial action to be brought forward as a matter of high priority. Instead, we are told that Irish Water have de-prioritised the Deel as a candidate for upgrading of treatment facilities, and no date has been indicated for such work in the future,” said Mr Siney.

He continued: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Limerick County and City is viewed by Irish Water as ‘not important and not worthy’ of investment in its vital facilities and functionality. On the one hand, there is the shabby treatment of the Deel/Shannon, and if that were not bad enough, their non-solution for the presence lead piping in our water supply network is quite paltry and unacceptable.

Instead of replacing all lead piping, Irish Water has decided to place a chemical called orthophosphate into the water supply for all consumers. It claims this chemical will reduce, not eliminate, the harmful affects of lead pipes.

All consumers will receive the chemical, whether they have lead pipes or not, and whether they want it or not.

Irish Water will likely claim that they don’t have sufficient resources, financial and organisational to undertake more than what’s on offer regarding sewerage treatment and lead pipe replacement. This, despite of or because of a need to conserve funding for its proposed spending of €1.2 billion on the construction of a 172 kilometre pipeline from the Parteen Basin to Dublin, the purpose of which is to divert Shannon water to Dublin at a rate of 330 million litres per day for domestic, commercial and industrial consumption.

This, of course, will compromise Limerick and the Mid-West yet again. The city/county and surrounding counties require strong levels and flows of Shannon water if economic recovery and expansion is to continue.

7-10-16 Askeaton Sewerage_KIf Irish Water think Limerick is a ‘soft touch’, then they grossly under estimate the people of the Treaty City, and quite frankly, they are out of their depth.”

The EPA claim that there is primary and preliminary treatment in place in Askeaton and that no raw sewage should be going directly into the River Deel.

“That’s what is in the license, Askeaton should have primary treatment and this should be in use. It does need a new plant but some areas have no treatment at all,” an EPA spokesman commented.

by Alan Jacques

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