Louth County Council was fined €4,000 at Dundalk district court last week for permitting untreated sewage from Omeath g o into Carlingford Lough.
The local authority admitted a breach of the Fisheries Consolidation Act on the second of August last year in relation to a broken outflow pipe.
David Clarke an Inspector for the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission - known as the Loughs Agency, told the court last Thursday that he carried out an inspection following complaints about the discharge of untreated sewage into the Lough.
He said he found faecal matter and sanitary items in the water and on the foreshore beside an outflow pipe which was broken with “a large rock” across it.
The court heard ordinarily the outfall from the pipe would be 18 or 20 metres further out.
Samples were taken and tested in a lab to determine how noxious they were. The results came back with a B.O.D reading of 38 - the reading for clean water is between one and five.
The witness said there was also an issue with the ammonia concentration which is toxic to fish.
Louth County Council’s solicitor John McGahon explained that a certificate of authorisation from the EPA is in place which permits a discharge over 300 metres out into the shipping channel from where the waste is washed out to sea at high tide.
He added that the breach in the pipe was repaired earlier this year as it is only possible to do so at certain times of the year. He said the B.O.D reading for treated waste 25 and a study by independent consultants commissioned by the council had found the water quality was within the levels permitted for shellfish fishing.
The court was told that the current system in use has been in place for approximately 60 years and while a treatment plant is not required as there’s a population of less than 500 the Department of the Environment had approved funding in August for the local authority’s plans to build one there.
Judge Flann Brennan also heard that since 2006/2007 all planning permissions granted in Omeath require that the waste is treated before leaving each site.
Counsel for the Loughs Agency Oisin Collins argued that regardless of the certificate of authorisation from the EPA, his client does not consider it appropriate that material of this nature be discharged into the lough and it was the “absence of treatment that is an issue”.
He added that that the certificate was granted under 2007 regulations which stipulate that it should be ensured that ‘gross solids’ or litter do not result in the impairment of or interfere with the amenities of the environment and he said “the status quo is considered to be unacceptable”.
The maximum fine for the offence is €5,000. Judge Brennan said he could only deal with the charge before him. He fined the local authority €4,000 and added that while he had taken into account the guilty plea “it was nonetheless a serious matter”.