Water discharge consent arrangements at an exploratory gold mine site in Co Tyrone are to be quashed, a High Court judge ordered today.
The move came after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) decided it was not in the public interest to defend legal action brought by a local resident.
Retired lecturer Fidelma O'Kane issued proceedings amid concerns over the impact work being carried out in the Sperrin Mountains by Canadian firm Dalradian Gold Ltd.
Ms O'Kane challenged a decision taken in September 2017 to review and vary the conditions of a water discharge consent issued to the company.
She said it allowed nine heavy metals to be released into a burn which flows on to the Owenkillew River near Gortin, a Special Area of Conservation due to the presence of freshwater pearl mussels, salmon spawning and otters.
In court today her barrister, Karen Quinlivan QC, confirmed the outcome of the case taken against the Department.
"The respondent has now decided it's not in the public interest to defend these proceedings, and proposes to conduct an appropriate assessment in accordance with its obligations under the Conservation (Natural Habitats) Northern Ireland Regulations," she said.
Agreement was reached between the parties that the decision under challenge should be quashed.
Mrs Justice Keegan made the order on those terms, which also included costs being paid to Mrs O'Kane.
The outcome means Dalradian reverts back to operating under the terms of a previous discharge consent.
Outside court Ms O'Kane pledged to continue her legal fight if necessary.
"I'm delighted that this water discharge consent has been quashed," she said.
"But I'm shocked to learn (about the previous consent).
"There will be a cumulative impact of these heavy metals building up over time."
A spokesperson for Dalradian said the 2017 consent was set aside because of a technical legal issue.
The company expects that its application will now be re-determined and reissued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, in identical terms, to align with amended European Union law.
The spokesperson added: "In the meantime, Dalradian's water discharge from its existing site will be regulated under a very similar consent issued in 2014.
"Independently verified testing, continuously taken throughout this period, shows uninterrupted compliance with the required parameters, thus ensuring no harm to the Owenkillew River."