BNM urged to create 'a lasting legacy' to benefit West Offaly
A Ferbane resident is urging Bord na Móna to take a much more proactive approach to the development of new walking and cycling routes through the cutaway bogs of West Offaly.
In an article submitted to local newspapers, retired teacher Paddy Egan argued that the company should be working to provide "a lasting legacy" that would not only benefit the community but could also generate interest both nationally and internationally.
Mr Egan, a member of Lynx Cycling Club, contacted Bord na Móna late last year to make the case that it was the appropriate agency to put in place walking and cycling routes through the cutaway bogs in the west of the county.
"Historically, the Bord was a major boost to the area when it started extracting peat and providing much-needed employment, with the consequent increase in disposable income," he wrote.
"The truth is that the work was extremely hard and the company made its profits on the back of this toil. The bogs were acquired at a minimal cost, over which the Bord retain an autonomous ownership on behalf of the State, ie. the people of West Offaly and beyond.
"Subsequently, I have been informed that the Bord has entered into discussions with Offaly County Council and Coillte regarding the same idea. Its motive, though, is to pass the responsibility on to these agencies and to have no direct input other than supplying the foundations as they exist because of the rail structures put in place to transport peat.
"As one individual indicated, the Bord would take responsibility for lifting the rail lines, which is something it has to do anyway.
"The argument I make is that the process slows immeasurably as it becomes fractured. I maintain that the company must be much more empathetic to the people on whom it relied to generate its business in times gone by."
Mr Egan said he saw the potential for attractive greenway - or 'brownway' – routes, such as one connecting Lough Boora Parklands to Shannonbridge.
"This could include using part of the pre-existing pathways in Boora, crossing over the Grand Canal at Turraun and the River Brosna shortly afterwards, passing under the R436 at Leamonaghan works, and the N62 at Renaun, before skirting the preserved Mongan bog close to Clonmacnoise," he stated.
"Most of the necessary infrastructure is already in place. Upon reaching Shannonbridge, there is the very real possibility that it will then connect directly with the proposed continuation of the Dublin to Galway greenway.
"It would also intersect the Grand Canal Way that is slowly being upgraded to eventually reach Shannon Harbour. Almost all of this route is in the direct control of Bord na Móna.
"It would pass through areas of cutaway bogs that have regenerated naturally, featuring abundant growth of native birch and sally trees, the seeds of which have lain dormant for thousands of years.
"It would run beside the Derries bog, which the Bord has designated as an area for 'rewetting', with the possibility of passing close to other similar projects in time."
However, he emphasised the importance of ensuring that such a development would be of a similarly high standard to other greenways in Mayo, Westmeath and Waterford.
"For too long, the West Offaly area has had to settle for second best. I commend the Bord on the work that it has done in developing the Lough Boora Parklands and the wetlands in Turraun, but the surfacing of the cycleway is not of a sufficient standard," he pointed out.
Mr Egan didn't receive a reply from a Bord na Móna representative last year and said the company only responded to him after he followed up with direct questions.
"I eventually received a reply from Joe Ryan, who is the estate supervisor for the Bord. There were no direct answers.
"It was very apparent that the focus of the company is on the provision of green energy and the collection and recycling of waste.
"However, with so much land at its disposal in West Offaly, there is the danger that it could become an area forested in wind turbines, as is apparent in the very recent declaration of intent to build an unspecified number of them, of unspecified height, in an unspecified area stretching between Leamonaghan, Ballycumber and Doon.
"The people of West Offaly deserve much more respect and consideration than that."
Mr Egan concluded by referring to Bord na Móna receiving more than €100 million in funding for the rewetting of cutaway bogs, which is due to involve some 330 jobs. He argued that the company should be working to develop cycleways and walkways in tandem with its rewetting initiatives.
"This too would offer further employment in an area that is known to have the least amount of disposable income per capita in the country. Of course, there is always the possibility that the Bord doesn't want to develop any amenity that might limit its ambition to install as many of these wind turbines as it can.
"I have no doubts about the willingness of Offaly County Council and others to take control of any future development. My real concern is the time it would take.
"Bord na Móna is in the right place at what is now the right time to take on a signature project that will benefit the area, with an ethical responsibility to the local communities to do so.
"It has the personnel and experience. All it lacks is the will and the appropriate concern. It is not too late for a change of approach - yet," he concluded.