The 1.4 hectare site is bound to attract the attention of developers once the remediation process has been completed Pictures: Adrian Butler
PEOPLE walking around the Dock Road area in Limerick city in recent weeks will have no doubt seen the emergence of activities at a site which hitherto had lain idle.
The Gasworks site at O'Curry Street and the Dock Road junction, which has been fully out of action for almost 20 years, represents one of the last portions of undeveloped land in the city.
Until now that is.
Gas Networks Ireland has started work on a multi-million euro remediation process to bring the site back to public use - and no doubt private developers will have their eyes on the 1.4 hectare site.
Up to now, the site has been deemed unfit for development due to the presence of more than tar deep underground.
But now, as part of a €12m project, Gas Networks Ireland engineers are on the site pumping this out and removing it from the area - and it's hoped the site will be ready for development by 2020.
A state-of-the-art, never used before in Ireland pump and treat technique has been deployed to start the removal of this coal tar.
"We'd hope to get 75% to 95% of the coal tar waste out. So far, we have taken out 50 tonnes, and possibly we'd expect to get out another 25 to 30 tonnes. The next three months will be all about going through different types of technology to get the maximum amount of tar out," explains John Collins, who is Gas Networks Ireland's site leader in Limerick.
Once this tar is removed, it will be shipped out from Limerick Port and transported to the Netherlands, where it will be disposed in an incinerator there.
The work to get the Gasworks site ready for remediation stretches back to the year 2000, when the final operations ceased.
But it is only over the last year intensive investigations and the pump-and-treat process has really kicked in.
"The idea is to pump out the coal tar waste and treat it on site as opposed to digging which would have been used before. It is more environmentally friendly. The carbon emissions are much lower as a result of this," Mr Collins adds.
While the pumping of tar from underground is key to the future of the site, it is only the first phase of this ambitious project.
The second phase will see the historic site brought up to a standard ready for development, while at the same time, preserving the most historic elements of the site.
As communications executive with Ervia Karen Ferris says: "This is a very modern project, but with big respect to the past."
The former gasworks site opened in Limerick in the 1870s and over the course of the next century, it expanded as the city got bigger and needs for cooking, heating and general energy grew. A rock quarry was erected on the site within the main area.
In the 1930s, with the Limerick's electrification scheme, one building was built to run the scheme in that part of the city, initially managed by the Corporation, later the ESB.
Mr Collins added: "It was ideally located close to the Limerick Port, up on a hilly knoll. The pressure of gravity used to be used to push gas around the city. That is the reason for its location. With the amalgamation of gas and power generation in the 1930s, that's how the power generation came into parallel to everything else."
The gasworks was phased out in the 1980s and 1990s, the old gasworks was phased out, as natural gas usage became more common, with the site becoming virtually redundant by the turn of the century.
The first site investigations began around this time.
Site leader Mr Collins added that Gas Networks Ireland will be very sensitive to the history of the site, engaging with archeological consultants, and the Limerick Civic Trust.
Indeed, it has stipulated in the tender for the second phase that the historic arch be moved brick-by-brick and preserved elsewhere in the city - and the Civic Trust is already considering erecting it near King John's Castle.
The boundary wall of the site has also been left damaged due to years of traffic vibrations from the Dock Road, plus the action on site. This will also be strengthened, Gas Networks Ireland say.
As works continue apace, the company says it has plans to set up a viewing gallery on the Dock Road to allow interested parties to witness what is going on.
And while removing tonnes of tar from the ground remains a tricky task, the engineers are in no doubt as to what lies ahead of them.
"The next phase is going to be a bit trickier," Mr Collins admits.
"We will be working in close proximity to a number of protected structures. So it will get harder for us as managers and engineers over the next 12 months to make it available for developers. Our hardest work is ahead of us!"