No consensus yet on new Seil waste plant

The current Seil waste treatment site.

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Seil islanders are yet to find consensus on a replacement for its failing sewage plant.

Scottish Water’s (SW) £11 million Clachan Seil Waste Water Works, unable to separate run-off from heavy rain, has been overflowing untreated human waste into Balvicar Bay.

Its final report on the options for a new plant was published on its dedicated website in June.

It acknowledged due to ‘significant dissatisfaction’ the community view of SW was already ‘very poor’ when the current plant was commissioned in 2008-09. Complaints then grew when its membranes ‘clogged up quicker than expected, spilling untreated screened discharges to the shellfish water more frequently’, which were reported to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

To fix it, and ‘a raw public outfall’ into Easdale Bay from eight houses on Seaview Terrace, SW presented a single scheme which had the ‘lowest whole life cost’: turning the plant into a pumping station to pass effluent for treatment at a community septic tank at Seaview Terrace. However, SW admitted, the proposal led to ‘very negative responses, compounded by an exceptionally low level of trust’.

A stakeholder group, composed of SW employees, an independent expert, local representatives, councillors and MSP Michael Russell, was set up in June 2016 ‘to engage the community in the development of a mutually acceptable option’. Twelve options were narrowed down to two, ‘based on cost, feasibility and acceptability’.

The first, termed option 1A, would cost £5.6 million and replace the existing plant with ‘a new tertiary treatment works away from the immediate community, still discharging to Seil Sound shellfish water, and create a small septic tank to serve the Seaview Terrace residents’.

The second, costing £5.5 million, termed option 3, would see a ‘single large septic tank and UV system located in the vicinity of Seaview Terrace to serve all properties currently connected to the public sewerage system, with disinfected effluent discharged to Easdale Bay’.

The report concluded: ‘While option 1A is more expensive, on balance it is believed to have the best opportunity to successfully deliver the outcomes and maintain community support.’

A map places the proposed plant around 300m west of the current one, behind the low hill running alongside the B844. The plant, approximately five metres high, and 50m by 135m, would require a land purchase, security fencing and a new access road, resulting in ‘significant local vehicle movements to import construction material’. A diagram puts its likely entry point on the road from Balvicar to Ellenabeich, between Kilbride Farm and the ‘Tin church’.

SW then held an information event in June, ‘to explain the process’ and take feedback to help shape the project’s delivery, and then published these comments on its website.

According to SW’s summary, many accepted 1A as the best option, thanking stakeholders and SW for their work. ‘It is cheering that after years of serious problems and negativity, SW is working hard to engage with the community to listen and find solutions,’ one stated. ‘The proof of SW’s ability to listen to the community will come by choosing option 1A,’ another said.

But some responders disagreed: ‘Option 1A [is] not my preferred option,’ wrote one, ‘but [it] could be acceptable if a different route was chosen for [the] access road.’ Another said: ‘The environmental impact on this untouched part of the island could be catastrophic.’ Another commented: ‘A scar on the island.’

While acknowledging ‘no-one can see it’, others raised concerns about the location and length of the access road, plus the number of ‘commercial’ or ‘heavy’ vehicles using it, and the ‘amount of litter left by contractors’.

Another asked for ‘any prospect of Ellenabeich getting a proper sewerage facility?’ Ellenabeich was being ‘left out’, another argued, adding: ‘This is not a consultation event but an event to announce a single decided option which has been driven through by an entirely self interest group. I have serious concerns about the impact of the construction vehicles on our roads and bridges which are our lifeline to other areas.’

‘There has been a lack of information circulated by the group to the wider community,’ complained another.

On behalf of the local stakeholders, Anne Marie Robin said they had always given progress reports at community council and public meetings. ‘The minutes of the public meetings are displayed locally and are on the Seil website as are the reports in the local [Seileachan] newsletter which is also distributed to every household.

‘The draft options appraisal which assessed the 12 options was sent to stakeholders in late December with a request from SW for confidentiality within the group as it may not have been easily understood by people who have not been as closely involved as members of the stakeholder group.

‘Despite this, the stakeholders were able to inform the public at the March community council meeting and subsequently in the newsletter that the preferred option was an inland site with full tertiary treatment with an approximate location.

‘The stakeholders invited a representative from SW to inform the public at the community council meeting of May 23 which was attended by 20 members of the public.

‘There has been no lack of publically available information and plenty of opportunity to request information from the stakeholders. Throughout, the stakeholders have had invaluable advice from the independent expert who believes option 1A is most likely to serve the needs of Seil. SW are now investigating alternative access routes and will report back in a few weeks.’