Belfast Telegraph

Stormont department acted lawfully in authorising discharge of waste water from treatment plant, High Court judge rules

By Alan Erwin

A Stormont department acted lawfully in authorising the discharge of waste water from a treatment plant on the Co Derry coast, a High Court judge ruled on Monday.

Madam Justice McBride dismissed a fishery owner's challenge to the green light being given for the scheme to pump out effluent at Magilligan Strand.

Frank McGurk argued that the former Department of the Environment breached domestic and European law in granting consent to Northern Ireland Water back in 2014.

He expressed concern that the waste could potentially affect marine life, particularly Atlantic salmon, and impact on his fishing rights.

But the judge held that he had failed to produce credible evidence of a real, rather than hypothetical, risk of harm in an area of special conservation and scientific interest.

She said: "I am satisfied that the respondent acted legally, rationally and followed proper procedures."

Mr McGurk owns a number of fisheries which have existed on Magilligan Strand since 1871.

Although activities are currently suspended under EU legislation, the court heard he intends to operate them again in future.

The coastal stretch has gained international importance for earth science due to features important to understanding post-glacial sea level history.

It also lies close to the designated special protection area of Lough Foyle.

The Magilligan Waste Water Treatment Works, project aimed at rationalising and upgrading an existing sewage network in the region, was completed three years ago.

A three-stage process involves removing non-biological matter, sedimentation and steps to kill pathogens.

Following treatment the effluent is then discharged into the Atlantic Ocean via an outfall pipe at Magilligan Point.

Lawyers for Mr McGurk sought to judicially review the decision to grant consent to NI Water, claiming it was unreasonable, unfair and without a proper inquiry.

They also contended it was in breach of the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 and the Habitats Directive.

During the hearing expert evidence provided conflicting opinions on the potential affect on salmon and other marine life in the vicinity of the discharge.

Northern Ireland Environmental Agency scientific officers submitted that the risks are hypothetical.

Data for the Rivers Foyle, Faughan and Roe showed no negative impact on the migration of salmon, with population figures comparing favourably to previous years.

NI Water also stressed the distance between the outfall pipe and the fisheries.

It denied any risk to marine life from the discharge of such high quality effluent.

As she rejected all grounds of challenge, Madam Justice McBride said: "I am satisfied that the applicant has not discharged the burden of producing credible evidence that there was a real, rather than a hypothetical risk, which should have been considered."

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