Warrenpoint Port is the second largest port in Northern Ireland and serves a catchment area including south Ulster and north Leinster. Around 150 people are employed in the Port every day and the business has a multiplier effect of 1500 jobs in the local economy.
Warrenpoint Harbour is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and management and staff take environmental responsibilities very seriously. The Port works closely with all bodies to ensure that our business can develop in harmony with its neighbours and environment.
Mr Peter Conway, Chief Executive said “As with most ports, Warrenpoint must clear its berths and channel from time to time to maintain depths to allow ships to berth. The dredged material in and around the port consists of natural sediment, silt and glacial material such as gravel and cobbles. Current environmental thinking encourages such material to be retained as close to its origin as possible to ensure the natural balance of the sediment system is maintained. This together with the current cost and significant carbon footprint of moving sediment to a distant location in the Irish Sea is the driving force behind the Port’s desire to seek for an in Lough disposal site.”
Warrenpoint Port, as a Trust Port, has a statutory obligation to dredge its approach channels and berths so that vessels can access the Port safely. For the past 40 years the Port has carried out a major dredging campaign approximately every 5 years, with more localised dredging within the port every 2 years in the areas where the loss of navigable water depth is most severe. Dredged material is currently placed at a licensed offshore site 26 km from the Port and 11 km outside of the sheltered waters of Carlingford Lough.
During the periods between major dredging campaigns, due to siltation the port operates with severely restricted navigational channels and berths. This impacts on trade significantly, with larger vessels unable to be accommodated. This compromises the competitiveness of the Port. The Port wish to maintain a better standard of channel, but the cost of dredging by external contracting is prohibitive.
To improve the sustainability and effectiveness of its maintenance dredging, the Port is considering investing in a small in-house dredger. The present practice of dredging a large volume over a short period of time would be replaced with a ‘little and often’ approach. Dredging would be an ongoing process, occurring throughout the year. For this approach to be feasible a less exposed placement site is required, to ensure a small vessel can safely transit to and from the site.
Following a site-selection exercise, which included consultation with statutory stakeholders, two potential placement sites within Carlingford Lough have been identified; one towards the mouth of the Lough between Greencastle and Cranfield Point and one in naturally deep water between Killowen Bank and Carlingford Bank. The Port is working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to consider the potential effects of a new placement site within the lough.
Before DAERA will consider a licence application for a new placement site, the Port must undertake a ‘characterisation study’ to consider the potential effects of the new placement site.
The Port has submitted a ‘scoping report’ to DAERA, which identifies the issues that will be considered during the characterisation study. The scoping report recognises the concerns raised by stakeholders on a wide range of issues, including the proximity to designated conservation and commercial sites, and describes the approach that will be taken to assess potential adverse effects on these sensitive receptors.
Once the Port has received feedback from DAERA on the scoping report, the next stage will be to commence the characterisation study, which will involve collecting baseline data and undertaking complex technical studies. During this stage the Port will engage with stakeholders to understand their concerns and ensure there is transparency in the approach implemented.
Once the characterisation study has been submitted to DAERA, they will consult with interested parties and subsequently make a decision on whether to grant a licence for a new placement site. The Port looks forward to working with DAERA and local stakeholders to ensure that all concerns are addressed throughout the assessment and application process.
It should be noted that the current 5-year dredging programme due to commence in early June 2017 will utilise the existing licensed site some 26km from the port. This dredging campaign normally lasts about 4 weeks.
Mr Conway went on to add, “Carlingford Lough is among the most valuable ecological areas within Northern Ireland, consisting of a variety of designated areas from North and South of the border. The Port’s responsible activities to date have ensured these areas are both maintained and enhanced. Warrenpoint Port wishes to explore cost saving measures and improvement to its carbon footprint, to ensure it can remain competitive, while ensuring that the local environment and the Port activities can continue to exist and grow in harmony. The Port welcomes this consultation and engagement as part of the process.”