A local planning board has given Aughinish Alumina Ltd permission to expand its red mud storage area (“bauxite residue disposal area,” or BRDA), enabling the refinery to continue in operation for nearly two more decades.
Last week, the An Bord Pleanála signed off on the plans despite fierce resistance from local environmental groups and farmers. The current BRDA will support Aughinish until the end of this decade, but the proposed expansion, which will allow for another one million cubic meters of red mud per year, pushes the sunset date out until 2039.
Aughinish’s planned expansion of the red mud reservoir includes an increase in the height of parts of the berm of up to 12 meters (39’).
The plan to expand Aughinish’s BRDA met with resistance, however. Cappagh Farmers Support Group spokesperson Pat Geoghegan warned the board of dire consequences in the event of a failure of the reservoir.
“It will exacerbate the potential for an environmental disaster and it would put huge pressure on the existing embankment walls.”
Meanwhile, Bord Pleanála Inspector Paul Caprani claimed the opposition to the proposal “have not provided any substantive evidence that the BRDA is structurally deficient to the extent that any such breakout of bauxite residue is likely or imminent.”
He continued by saying that a leak or failure of the retaining dams to be “very unlikely” and “negligible.”
In approving of the plan, the commission found it was “wholly compliant with national, regional and local policy and that prescribed bodies have not raised any concerns in relation to the proposed development.”
Ultimately the An Bord Pleanála will not only boost the local economy, but that the proposal is also not a threat to public health and poses acceptable risks to the surrounding homes and businesses.
Aughinish did not specify a timeframe for commencing the expansion project.