Controversial ‘red mud’ area extension at Aughinish Alumina approved 

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The red mud settling pond at the Aughinish Alumina plant near Askeaton.

AN BORD Pleanala has approved controversial plans by the Aughinish Alumina refinery to expand its bauxite residue disposal area (BRDA) to allow the West Limerick plant continue to operate until 2039.

The appeals board granted planning permission to the Russian-owned company, despite the opposition of local farmers and environmental groups, Environmental Trust Ireland and Futureproof Clare.

The BRDA already in place has capacity to provide for bauxite residue – or ‘red mud’ – until 2030 at the refinery site in Askeaton and the company says the new extension will extend the lifetime of the BRDA up to 2039.

The proposed development will provide for the deposition of one million m3 per annum, which will allow for a projected additional deposition of eight million m3 of bauxite residue in total.

The proposed increase in the disposal capacity will result in an increase in the height of sections of the BRDA by 12 metres.

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Pat Geoghegan of the Cappagh Farmers Support Group objected to the BRDA expansion as “it will exacerbate the potential for an environmental disaster and it would put huge pressure on the existing embankment walls”.

The group warned that if an environmental disaster occurs as a result of a grant of permission, the Board will have nowhere to hide.

Environmental Trust Ireland said the proposal was “an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen”.

However, in recommending planning permission, Bord Pleanala Inspector, Paul Caprani concluded that the third party observations didn’t provide “any substantive evidence that the BRDA is structurally deficient to the extent that any such breakout of bauxite residue is likely or imminent”.

He said that evidence presented before the Board overwhelmingly suggested that any such breakout ranges from “very unlikely to negligible’”.

Planning consultants for Aughinish Alumina, Tom Phillips and Associates, stated that “any suggestion that the existing facility at Aughinish will exacerbate threats to the environment and to human and animal health is not supported by evidence”.

They stated that the proposed development “is wholly compliant with national, regional and local policy and that prescribed bodies have not raised any concerns in relation to the proposed development”.

The consultants maintained that Bauxite residue is categorised as “a non-hazardous waste” under the European Waste Code and that the proposed development “will assist in the long-term economic sustainability of the facility and of the region”.

The appeals board has given the scheme the go-ahead after concluding that it “would not be prejudicial to public health and would be acceptable in terms of its impact on the amenities of the area.