"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
NORTH MAYO residents have begun a series of protests to reclaim the road they say is being lost to the local community and overtaken by heavy traffic of working equipment and haulage associated with the Corrib gas project.
A garda holds local resident Gerry O'Malley while another garda records events as a convoy of lorries passes yesterday at Pollathomas, Co Mayo. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus
The residents, who are not aligned to any formal protest grouping, say they feel “abandoned by the State and all its agencies”.
The residents of Pollathomas, Aughoose, Lenamore, Aughagower, Barnacuillew and Glengad live along the L1202 coast road, which runs parallel to the Sruwaddacon estuary in inner Broadhaven Bay. The L1202 is currently one of the main haulage routes for work on the onshore Corrib gas pipeline.
Earlier this week, Shell EP Ireland’s new managing director Michael Crothers said €800 million would be spent on this final phase of the project, sustaining 700 jobs and a further 750 indirectly.
The new onshore pipeline route approved by An Bord Pleanála avoids Rossport, which is on the northern shore of the estuary, a special area of conservation.
A 4.9km tunnel is to be constructed on the estuary between Aughoose and Glengad over 26 months, with gas predicted to flow from the reservoir 70km offshore in late 2014 or early 2015.
Currently, up to three convoys of heavy goods trucks pass along a 10km stretch of road between Ballinaboy and the Aughoose and Glengad work compounds.
Each convoy is accompanied by Garda and I-RMS security escorts.
No reference to escorts is made in the traffic-management plan, which stipulates a maximum speed limit of 60km/h and 50km/h at “pinch points”. It says there should be ongoing communication with the community, with a freephone number provided.
The traffic plan adds that convoys will not travel during school delivery and drop-off times at Pollathomas National School. However, locals say there have been incidents where the road has been closed for up to half an hour, or they have been diverted, missing work and school appointments.
Spokeswoman Betty Schult, Pollathomas, said one form of protest would be the removal of signage associated with the Corrib project.
John Monaghan of Pobal Chill Chomáin community group said he tried to raise the traffic issue at the Bord Pleanála oral hearing into the revised pipeline route in 2010, but was overruled.
Since last August, he said he had put in a series of requests to the Garda superintendent in Belmullet to discuss the issue.
Garda Supt Patrick Diskin of Belmullet said he was willing to meet Mr Monaghan and had “not received any complaints regarding an alleged breach of the traffic management plan”. He denied any road closures and said they were “temporary restrictions”.
Fine Gael Belmullet-based councillor Gerry Coyle, who supported the gas project from the outset, said he felt very upset for “ordinary decent people”.
Mayo County Council yesterday condemned the removal of signage as a “reckless action which could compromise public safety” and said there had been “no complaints” regarding the heavy goods vehicle convoys on the L1202.
Shell EP and I-RMS did not respond to queries on the issue.