Warrenpoint Port asked to set out impact of dredge plan
Warrenpoint Port has been told it must set out the impact of a proposal to dispose of dredging material close to protected parts of Carlingford Lough.
Until now, spoil from the harbour and channel has been dumped at sea miles off the County Down coast.
But, the port now wants to deposit the material in the lough.
It said it wants to adopt a "little and often" dredging strategy and a smaller vessel it would use needs a disposal site in the lough for safety reasons.
The cost of the current dredging operation, which sees considerable volumes of silt removed every five years, is another consideration.
Dredging operations are understood to cost the port more than £1m at a time.
The current licensed sea disposal site is eight miles off the coast and more than 15 miles from the harbour.
But, some environmentalists and agencies have raised concerns about the potential impact of disposing of the material in Carlingford Lough.
Two possible sites have been identified, one near Mill Bay and the other close to Green Island.
Both are between 500m and 600m outside the boundary of an EU protected area.
The area was designated under Europe's Birds Directive because of its internationally important population of light-bellied Brent geese and breeding populations of common terns and Sandwich terns.
Officials have expressed concerns about the Green Island proposal because of the potential impact on a tern-breeding site, as well as on the feeding grounds for the birds.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has suggested the Green Island site should be considered "unsuitable".
Ulster Wildlife said it would like further evaluation of the impact on a nearby Marine Conservation Zone, designated for its population of sea pens, a type of invertebrate marine animal that looks like a quill pen.
The port has now been asked to submit a report setting out the potential environmental impact and any mitigation measures in support of its application for a licensed disposal site in the lough.
The information will be assessed before a final decision is made.
The port said silting of the harbour and channels impacts its ability to accommodate larger ships, reducing its competitiveness.
If approved it will dredge smaller amounts more often using its own vessel rather than contracting the work out, which it describes as "prohibitive".
In a statement, the port said its "responsible activities to date" had ensured the valuable ecology of Carlingford Lough had been maintained and enhanced.
It said it wanted to explore cost-saving measures to remain competitive while ensuring port activities and the environment "can continue to exist and grow in harmony".