Commencement of an €18m wastewater treatment plant in Co Cork remains on hold due to uncertainty over ownership rights on the Blackwater.
The Youghal project was expected to coincide with a €4.4m sewerage pipe network that began last month.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said: “A legal title issue relating to the footfall of the outfall pipes [land bearing sewage pipes] has arisen, which has been referred to the department’s solicitors.”
The Government could face millions of euro in fines by the EU if construction does not start by the month’s end.
The foreshore licence is being sought on behalf of Irish Water but the 12th Duke of Devonshire has historical rights to the river bed and foreshore stretching 20 miles to the mouth of Youghal harbour.
It is understood that the duke, Peregrine Cavendish, has no objections to the project but the department does not want the licence registered in his name as the river owner.
The duke, estimated to be worth over €800m, owns the 8,000-acre Lismore estate and controls Blackwater fishing rights. His family survived many legal challenges to their rights over the centuries.
The department declined to clarify if the department is effectively challenging his ownership, which heralds from the marriage of the 3rd duke to 16-year-old Charlotte (6th Baroness Clifford) and daughter of Richard Boyle, in 1747. A spokes- man for Lismore Estates says there has been no approach from the department regarding the matter.
The issue has further relevance for proposed wastewater plants at Ardmore and Cappoquin, which are part of the Waterford Grouped Towns and Villages Sewerage Scheme and awaiting contracts.
Irish Water has until the end of April to sign off a final sanction on the plant and appoint a contractor. That would allow the plant’s construction — expected to take 18 months — while the title and foreshore licence issues are addressed.
The European Court of Justice fined Belgium €10m plus €855,000 per six month period until wastewater treatment compliance. The EPA and pipe network contractor may also instigate fines for prolonged delays.
Ireland is already involved in a case in Europe due to failure to treat wastewater in over 80 towns.