A new system for collecting contaminants close to one of the most important salmon populations in the British Isles could have potentially catastrophic ecological consequences, the High Court heard today.
Lawyers for a body of anglers claimed any breaches during a process to relocate lagoons near a concreting plant may see harmful chemicals and waste end up in the River Faughan.
The waterway, which flows to Lough Foyle in Co Londonderry, has secured status as an Area of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation.
A legal challenge has been brought against the granting of planning permission for development at the nearby Chambers Concrete production site in Drumahoe.
According to the River Faughan Anglers Ltd, a cross-community organisation set up protect and manage salmon and trout fishing, the Department of the Environment has failed to properly assess the environmental impact and applied inconsistent conditions.
Approval was granted last September for extensions to an office, vehicle maintenance shed and improved washing out facilities on the site.
The relocation of up to three lagoons which collect contaminants in the water coming from the plant before they reach the river also formed part of the plans.
Opening the anglers' attempt to judicially review the decision, William Orbinson QC told Mr Justice Treacy how the Faughan has been classed as having one of the most important Atlantic Salmon spawning populations in the British Isles.
He said the river and its tributaries were designated as special areas of conservation because they contained valuable and threatened species and habitats.
According to Mr Orbinson concrete manufacturing produces chemicals and sediment harmful to aquatic life.
The location of such a plant close to such an important salmon holding creates "an unfortunate recipe", the barrister contended.
The court heard how a condition was imposed that new lagoons must be built before the three existing ones are decommissioned.
Mr Orbinson questioned how the process could be achieved without impacting on the current situation.
He said: "If the existing lagoon system is compromised or breached, the contents of the existing lagoons are very apt to end up in the River Faughan, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the ecology."
The barrister acknowledged his clients would have no problem in a shift if carried out in an environmentally safe way, but claimed the authorities have failed to carry out proper checks.
"The anglers have grave concerns that the Department has failed to address the risk of environmental harm to this asset arising from the activity of the Chambers business," he added.
"What the Department are saying is 'Trust us judge, we have had a think about this and we have done it right'."
The case, which is listed for a two-day hearing, will resume next month.