The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) believed Council rubbish from Coleraine and Magherafelt was buried in a massive illegal waste dump on the banks of the Faughan and sent warning letters to the respective authorities last year, the Sentinel can reveal.
Warning letters were sent to both Councils on the same day that former Environment Minister Alex Attwood revealed he had revoked the licence of the City Waste waste management facility in Gorticross as part of an investigation into what he described as “immense and appalling” unlawful waste activity.
Both Councils say there is no evidence their waste ended up in Mobuoy.
An investigation into the Mobuoy site had been launched in Spring 2012 after a DoE officer noticed bubbles in a pond in what turned out to be a totally illegal landfilling site near the City Waste waste management facility. The officer believed the bubbles may have been caused by methane escaped from buried landfill.
On June 5, 2013 - the day that the Operation Sycamore investigation into illegal landfilling by the Faughan was made public - the NIEA Chief Executive Terry A’Hearn issued both Councils with letters concerning “your legal obligations under waste legislation.”
He wrote: “I am writing to inform you that NIEA has detected waste in an illegal landfill site in Northern Ireland that is believed to have originated from your organisation.
“The material was discovered in the course of a large scale criminal investigation into waste crime in the North West.”
Mr A’Hearn wrote to the authorities at Cloonavin and Ballyronan Road stating that they had a legal duty of care under Article 5 of the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 to make sure their rubbish didn’t damage the environment.
In lay terms this meant the Councils were “required to keep certain records and to ensure that your waste is being managed legally and in a way that does not pose any threat to the environment or human health.”
The NIEA boss warned: “Failure to comply with any of the requirements of Duty of Care legislation is a criminal offence with the potential for a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or an unlimited fine or both, or, (if tried in the Magistrates’ Court), a fine not exceeding £5,000.”
Between Spring 2012 and Spring 2013 the DoE dug 98 trail pits, sunk 28 bore holes and carried out four inspections of the Mobuoy Road site.
At four sites near the waste management facility, Mr Attwood said he believed hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste were covered with clay, sand and topsoil, sometimes nocturnally.
Today the Sentinel can reveal that Mr A’Hearn warned these two Councils that their “obligations do not necessarily end when your waste leaves your premises or is handed over to a haulier, but can extend further down the waste chain.”
Writing in June 2013 he stated: “As the current investigation continues some producers of waste have already been contacted by my staff from the NIEA and a number of records have been produced and witness statements taken.
“Notwithstanding any action that may result from this investigation the purpose of this letter is to remind you in the strongest possible terms of your legal obligations regarding management of waste, and dispel and attitude (which may be held by producers/holders of waste of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”
The NIEA asked the Council to provide evidence that their waste contracts allowed them and the NIEA to trace their waste and that they could follow an audit trail from source to ultimate destination.
“Given the seriousness of criminality in the waste industry and the consequent risk to the environment and human health and the economy, NIEA is taking strong steps, as part of a control strategy, to secure compliance with all waste legislation by all those in the waste management chain.
“These steps will include proactive enforcement through the criminal justice system where breaches of environmental law are identified and this includes the investigation of actions by producers/holders of waste.”
The Sentinel asked all of the above parties for their positions in relation to the letters issued.
A spokesperson for Coleraine Borough Council said: “Council have no evidence to suggest that waste collected by this Council ended up in Mobuoy. Queries should be directed to the NIEA.”
A spokesperson for Magherafelt District Council said: “Magherafelt District Council believes that there is no evidence that any municipal wastes as collected by Magherafelt District Council were deposited in the illegal landfill site discovered by NIEA at the premises of Campsie Sand and Gravel, Mobouy Road, Derry.
“The Council has always complied with the requirements of the law in relation to the collection, transport and disposal of the wastes which it is required to collect and in particular with the requirements of the Duty of Care Code of Practice as published by the NIEA.
“The Council keeps all of its waste management operations under review and continues to work closely with NIEA in relation to such matters.
“All wastes which the Council has collected are disposed of through licensed waste management companies and operators who are regulated by the NIEA.”
A DOE spokesperson said: “The letter was a generic letter sent to a number of recipients, private businesses and local councils, who may have been involved at some point in the waste handling chain of the wastes discovered on the Mobuoy Road sites.
“The correspondence did not, in any way, seek to imply that those recipients had any knowledge of or indeed were involved any unauthorised activities.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Derry City Council said that correspondence received from NIEA did not identify Derry City Council municipal waste amongst the material at the Mobuoy site.