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Adjournment Debate on the remediation of Kerdiffstown Landfill Site – 20th July

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue on the Adjournment. I will give a brief history on the landfill site at Kerdiffstown, County Kildare, close to which I live. In January a large-scale fire on the site made national headlines. The fire was associated with material that had been left lying to one side of the main landfill site. There was also the potential for contamination from leachate from the site. I looked at some of the analysis of the leachate and there was potential for it moving towards a tributary of the Liffey, which is upstream of the Leixlip treatment plant which supplies water to much of north Kildare and west Dublin.

When the EPA eventually got control, it had to deal with a number of issues. First was a serious issue in the locality with regard to the odours being emitted from the site. The EPA has installed some gas extraction facilities and the gas is being flared off. It is also monitoring water in the locality constantly to ensure the leachate is not spreading towards the tributary. To date, the EPA has spent €2.9 million on this phase of the landfill’s remediation.

Phase two of the process is the planning and design of the remediation and may involve requests for planning permission to develop cells to which material may be safely moved. The third phase is the actual remediation, which may take up to five years and cost approximately €30 million. From where will this money come? The EPA is pursuing the companies that operated the landfill site. As most of them are in liquidation or receivership, it is doubtful that the EPA will be successful in garnering money from them through the courts. The EPA is also pursuing their directors as individuals, but one would not be too optimistic about securing funding in this way either.

I am delighted the Minister is present, as I wish to ask him about another source of funding, namely, the Environment Fund, which was set up under the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 and was to be used for activities that were of benefit to the environment. The use of this fund for the site’s remediation would be of benefit to the environment, given the constant odour problem and the potential of leachate entering a tributary of the Liffey.

Since the remediation’s approximate cost will be €30 million, one may well ask whether there would be sufficient money in the Environment Fund. As of 2010, the fund generated €60 million. By 30 June this year, it had generated €30 million, a level consistent with its returns during the past three years. Based on the 2009 figures, it has a surplus of approximately €40 million. I presume the Comptroller and Auditor General’s figures, when published, will also show a surplus for 2010.

While I understand the works could last for up to five years, will the Minister set aside money from the Environment Fund to remediate this landfill? If we do not remediate now, it could become problem. Remediating it over five years would be cheaper than sitting by in the belief that we had done a good job for the time being and waiting eight to ten years for the economy to pick up and for us to have money, since by that time we could have a more expensive environmental disaster to remediate.

Will the Minister ring-fence some of the Environment Fund’s surplus to secure and remediate this site so that it can either be brought into public ownership or a charge can be put on the land, through which its owners would be required to pay something towards the site’s remediation? If he does, we will have cleaned up an environmental hazard in the locality of Naas.

Response from Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): I thank Deputy Lawlor for raising what is an important matter for his community and for providing me with an opportunity to update the House on the substantial effort being made by the relevant agencies, with financial support from my Department, to address the issues involved.

As the Deputy indicated, substantial funding has already been provided from the Environment Fund to deal with the situation at the landfill at Kerdiffstown, County Kildare. Some €2.26 million has been made available to support the work of Kildare County Council and the EPA in dealing with the fire that arose at the facility and in the follow-up work to address the longer term issues arising. I am committed to providing funding for additional expenditure to be incurred by the EPA in the period to the end of 2011 in respect of the agency’s ongoing work at Kerdiffstown.

While further significant expenditure will arise beyond that, it is not possible to quantify precisely at this time, as the costs involved will depend on a range of factors, including the quantities of waste, the approach to remediation required and the results of tendering processes. The levels of future funding available through the Environment Fund to fund specific projects and programmes will depend on the revenues accruing to the fund from the landfill and plastic bag levies and the range of competing demands seeking to draw from it. Against this uncertain background, the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot give an absolute guarantee on ring-fencing further funding for works at Kerdiffstown in the years ahead, but I assure him that dealing with legacy issues at Kerdiffstown is a priority for me and will remain so when it comes to making future decisions on activities to be funded from the Environment Fund.

The current situation at Kerdiffstown is that, following the completion of the fire fighting activity on 25 February 2011, the day the Deputy was elected, the fire services passed control of the site to the EPA. The agency is using powers under the Waste Management Acts to remediate the site and to put in place appropriate aftercare measures. I understand that the next major remedial works to occur on site will be the demolition of a number of unsafe buildings. These are scheduled to be demolished in August and I understand that the EPA, as part of its communications programme regarding the site, will be outlining the specific dates before the works commence.

In general, remedial works are continuing at the site as part of a process that will take a few years. Apart from the demolition works to which I have just referred, the next phase of activity involves a detailed site investigation, which is being advanced and prioritised to end of this year, followed by detailed design of the full remediation works programme.

The EPA has also established a community liaison group comprising the agency, local residents, including members of the Clean Air for Naas group, business representatives and Kildare County Council. The first meeting of the group was held earlier this month and included a site visit for group members and elected representatives from the area. A range of relevant information is available on the dedicated project website established by the EPA.

I am conscious of the significant environmental damage caused by the reckless and irresponsible management of the Kerdiffstown site by the company. Deputy Lawlor can be assured that the site remediation will proceed as quickly as possible, but I cannot give the undertakings he has requested, as 200 legacy landfill sites in conditions that are almost identical to those at Kerdiffstown are also in need of remediation. I am sorry that I have inherited so many sites that require this level of remediation and improvement in the interests of their communities and the environment, but I will do everything I can to assist the Deputy and the Kerdiffstown community as soon as possible.