Water pipeline ‘awash’ with talk of if, when and compensation

Some farmers and land-owners on the route of the proposed Shannon-Dublin water pipeline are tentatively awaiting further developments, in the event that the project does actually go ahead.

While any compensation payments would likely be configured in a complex, three-fold arrangement, for each affected land-owner, there is mounting speculation with regard to approximate per-metre payments. But will the project even proceed?

At recent meetings, figures (reflecting the combined elements of a three-fold compensation package) in the region of €100+ per metre have been bandied about. So, for example, if the pipeline was to track across a section of a field spanning a distance of, say, 100m that would suggest compensation somewhere in excess of just €10,000.

This is based on the premise that the approach to compensation would be broadly similar to that used for earlier gas pipeline projects. In some of those instances, land-owners reportedly received final payments of between €70 and €80 per metre. Of course, there were also payments that fell outside this range – for example, where unforeseen problems unfolded or where an exceptionally high level of disruption or damage ensued.

The €70-80 per metre figure was also based on a narrower permanent ‘way-leave’ across an affected farmer’s land – typically 14m for the gas line, rather than the proposed 20m that is being mooted by Irish Water for the water pipe.

Irish water pipe pipeline

While there has been no official confirmation of proposed compensation packages, some farmers and land-owners returning from regional consultation meetings (run by Irish Water) were under the impression that the level of compensation would be proportionately higher – commensurate with the increase in width from 14m to 20m. This, in turn, is how the figure of €100+ per metre, rather than €70-€80, has trickled into the discussion.

In reality, the mechanism by which compensation would be paid – if the pipeline does actually get built – will be more complex than a single per-metre figure would suggest.

It is expected that each compensation package would be comprised of three elements.

There would be a payment to compensate for the immediate disruption to the farm. While the permanent ‘way-leave’ (upon the completion of the works) would be just 20m wide, a 50m-wide track would be fenced off during the construction phase – potentially splitting holdings in two and creating all sorts of issues with regard to vehicular / stock access and farm security.

Another element of the compensation would address the losses directly incurred within the 50m-wide construction area, due to the loss of that acreage from the farming enterprise (for the duration of the build).

Finally, and certainly most emotively, there would a payment in respect of the 20m-wide ‘way-leave’ that would remain when all construction works are complete. While the pipeline would be buried underground – the large-bore pipe would lie in a 4m-deep trench – Irish Water would retain access to an ‘invisible’ 20m-wide pathway directly over the pipe.

Farmers and land-owners would not be permitted to ever build a permanent structure on this 20m-wide way-leave. It would, however, be reinstated following construction, allowing crops to be sown or stock to resume grazing thereafter.

Will the farm be the same?

Some farmers and land-owners are concerned whether or not the likely compensation package would reflect the disruption and losses suffered, as a result of the ‘pipe’. Many are hopeful that the figures outlined above would serve only as an ‘opening offer’ from Irish Water – with a final settlement to be negotiated with farming organisations, representatives from local action groups and individuals thereafter.

Of course, some are unsure as yet if the pipe will actually cross their boundaries.

Irish Water had initially announced a ‘Preferred Route Corridor’ – a 2km-wide path through the countryside charting, in broad strokes, the 172km path from the Parteen Basin to Peamount in Co. Dublin.

More recently, the ‘Preferred Route Corridor’ has morphed into a more concise, proposed ‘Preferred 200m-wide Pipeline Corridor’. Approximately 500 farmers and land-owners are on this route.

Within this 200m-wide corridor, the maps indicate a ‘likely’ route for the 50m-wide construction ‘way-leave’.

At this point, there are farmers whose land is encroached by the 200m-wide corridor, but not the proposed 50m-wide inner ‘way-leave’. Of course, there are many farmers whose land is traversed by both.

If the project goes ahead, some are concerned that the construction works might do irreparable damage to their holdings. For example, how will the engineers reinstate land that has a complex network of natural streams, springs or drainage points to its former state – having routed a big trench through it. Can farmers be assured that this will happen to their satisfaction, as opposed to that of an on-site civil engineer or surveyor.

Indeed, should farmers seek to have their farms independently and comprehensively surveyed before large excavators track across their fields? If so, what credentials would the surveyor need, in order for his or her findings to have any weight in a subsequent hearing or arbitration.

Time is charging on and emotions, albeit in some regions only, are running high. If the pipeline does get the proverbial green light, construction would most likely kick off in 2020-2021.

Meanwhile, the deadline for submissions as part of the public consultation closed last month. There will, no doubt, be further ebbs and flows on this €1 billion endeavour before a sod is turned.