Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF).

EPA must review percolation regulations - Feeley

Changes to EPA regulations on percolation testing need to be implemented to allow local residents build in rural areas as the current system is stymieing development, a Cavan County Council member said.

Cllr John Paul Feeley called for a resolution of the issues surrounding percolation tests at a meeting of the authority earlier this year. He called on Minister of State for Planning and Local Government, Peter Burke, and the EPA to address the problem to allow local authorities grant planning permission on the basis of engineered treatment solutions available and accepted in other jurisdictions.

“We have to keep talking about it in the hope that something will happen,” Cllr Feeley told theCelt. “It’s been raised before, the EPA went back and looked at the regulations and have given an undertaking that they will tweak them. The reality is that the tweaking they propose is irrelevant for places like west Cavan and Leitrim. It may help some people, but it won’t help in those areas.”

Cllr Feeley believes the environmental regulator’s ‘one size fits all’ approach is easily debunked: “It’s [the EPA] completely out of touch. It has a one sided view.

“I don’t want to be facetious about it, but there were over 200,000 people living in Cavan 150 years ago. There was 90,000 people living in Cavan 100 years ago. All those people were producing waste, but the waterways at the time were considered pristine.”

The Blacklion representative maintains that changes in farming practices and forestry have had more of an impact on water quality. “The domestic septic tank is not the big problem,” he contended.

He said the repercussions of EPA’s hard line on regulation standards in rural Ireland are severe: “We have a problem in this country: a difficulty arises, we set up a body to address it, they go and deal with it, but the don’t have any regard for any other problems, including ones they are unintentionally creating. In this instance, that is killing off communities.”

Cllr Feeley called for the introduction of common sense to the planning process: “If the EPA lifted their regulations in the morning, there would not be a building boom in west Cavan. There will not be hundreds of houses built. People are willing to put in waste treatment systems approved by engineers that are appropriate to the location.”

The last time the matter was discussed in the Dáil was when a private members Water Pollution Amendment bill was debated in 2018.

Speaking at the time Sinn Fein Deputy Martin Kenny noted that in west Cavan and Leitrim “almost 90% of the soil will not pass the percolation test, has meant that, over the past number of years, in many rural parishes where there is no town or alternative, there can be no planning permission”.

Deputy Kenny stated that the standard of practice in the EPA code of practice was written in 2009 and came into effect in 2010: “It stated that if the soil on a site was too dense and failed the percolation test, the result would be what they call zero emissions or zero discharge. In other words, no matter how well the treatment system on site treated the effluent, even if it treated it to drinking water standard, a cup of that water is not allowed into a river or stream.”

Cllr Feeley told the Celt “now is the time for real changes” saying: “Development in rural areas can give an all-round benefit to the area. Those benefits are social, economic and even in terms of habitat. However the EPA won’t countenance that at all.”