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A plea for a renewable energy firm to abandon plans for a controversial new hydro power scheme amid fears it could suck dry a famous Lochaber waterfall has fallen on deaf ears.
Last week, at a public meeting at Kilmonivaig Church Hall, representatives from SIMEC GHR and Jahama Highland Estates – part of Lochaber smelter owners GFG Alliance – were on hand to outline plans for four new schemes in the Fort William, Spean Bridge and Loch Treig areas.
Planning applications for all four schemes – Allt Daim, Allt Coire an Eoin, Allt Leachdach, Allt na Lairigie – were expected to be submitted to Highland Council last week.
During a sometimes heated meeting, local Killiechonate Woodlands landowner Rik Eppens asked if SIMEC GHR would consider ditching one of the four schemes – the one proposed on the Allt Coire an Eoin (River Cour), near Spean Bridge – because of the potential impact on the flow of the river and its associated well-known waterfall.
A hydro scheme was constructed on this stretch of the river in the 1920s and formed part of the larger Lochaber hydro power scheme.
All four proposed schemes lie on sites that are part of the 114,000 acres of land that GFG Alliance purchased along with the smelter.
But Mr Eppens says that already there is very little water left now as a result of the existing intake, which is below the waterfall.
‘Everything already goes into the tunnel. But I am led to believe a certain percentage of the water has to be legally left.’
Jayson Drummond, from SIMEC GHR, said when the existing hydro scheme was constructed in the 1920s, there was no regulation governing such issues. ‘I don’t believe there is a legal requirement,’ added Mr Drummond.
Mr Eppens asked him if he did not feel responsible for this precious environment.
Mr Drummond replied: ‘There has to be an element of trust for sure that we have learned lessons, as have the consultees, and that we can deliver the promised schemes.’
Mr Eppens said the impact on the River Cour as a result of the existing hydro scheme was ‘horrendous’ and fears the impact of the proposed new project, which would have an intake just above the falls.
And he added: ‘Tourism is very important in this area. Almost all of the Cour goes into the tunnel already. Why don’t you just drop this scheme?’
Mr Drummond said that was not possible: ‘This is the good site. We can’t drop it unfortunately.’
The Cour is a fast-flowing spate river that flows into the River Spean, which in turn joins the River Lochy – one of the most important salmon fisheries on the west coast of Scotland.
Mr Eppens explained that promises had been made that after the new hydro is built enough water will still be left to run over the waterfall.
‘But what is enough? My observation is that hardly any water is left now at the existing intake,’ he said.
Mr Eppens told the meeting that if Jahama/SIMEC believed that the environment was important, more water should be left in the river.
‘But if they are not doing that, I wonder why we should then believe the promise that enough water will still be left to run over the waterfall after the new hydro scheme is built,’ he said.
‘I am afraid that with the hydro scheme on the Cour waterfall, Lochaber will lose yet another landmark.’