Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan says the partial explosion of a bog beside a Claudy windfarm earlier this month did not affect protected peatland.
On February 12, the Sentinel first reported that the Rivers Agency were to inspect a potential watercourse obstruction after the bog broke apart near the Glenconway windfarm.
Jason Cooke of SSE, which owns the farm, said “unprecedented rainfall levels” at the site caused the collapse.
Now Green MLA Steven Agnew has raised the matter with Mr Durkan at Stormont. He asked if the ‘peatslide’ had affected or damaged active peatland such as protected features like blanket or raised bog.
Mr Durkan said it hadn’t as the incident occurred in an area that had been used for intensive peat extraction.
“Therefore the incident was not the result of development on active peat land and no active peat has been damaged,” the Minister stated.
He corroborated Mr Cooke’s claim that “unusually heavy rainfall was a significant contributory factor.”
Although a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) told the Sentinel the issue was principally a matter for the landowner when the paper first raised the matter, Mr Durkan said the incident had been investigated by the authority and that it had been liaising with the companies responsible for construction and management at the site.
“The companies have been tasked to take steps to remedy the current incident and to ensure that no more peat enters the waterway. This remedial action to prevent any further environmental damage including the release of sediments into the Faughan is underway,” said Mr Durkan.
Mr Agnew also asked the Environment Minister if he would order urgent action to prevent environmental damage to the River Faughan arising from the peat slide.
He responded: “NIEA has already undertaken urgent action to assess the risk and prevent environmental damage.
“NIEA’s Duty Emergency Pollution Officer received a report of a potential pollution incident at 11pm on Sunday, February 9, 2014; local NIEA staff were tasked to attend the site the next morning, Monday, February 10. Remedial action has been taken.”
Mr Agnew’s concern over active peatland stems from its protected status under the European Commission (EC) Habitats Directive.
Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 18 also warns that the development of windfarms has the potential to severely impact on the hydrology of a large area of active bog.
However, last month Mr Cooke told the Sentinel the disturbance was caused on reinstated rather than active peat.
He said: “As a result of these extreme weather events a small volume of reinstated peat at the site entered an historical man-made drain and progressed to a nearby tributary of the Loughermore river.
“Working closely with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s (NIEA) Water Management Division we have taken the appropriate steps to contain any further entry from the drain and while additional works are ongoing we have undertaken emergency works to mitigate the risk of additional peat run-off entering the river.”
He said: “As part of our normal ongoing site monitoring we will continue to assess the impact of the current weather conditions and we will take all appropriate actions to minimise the impact of any future weather events on environmental conditions at the site.”